Initiatives costing at least $25 million must be noted

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Editor's note: This story has been corrected. In an earlier version, we confused the bill discussed below with similar legislation on the same subject by the same legislator.

Under a bill that the Senate passed 41-to-8 Monday, an initiative ballot that would cost more than $25 million to implement would have to note that on the ballot title. The bill now goes to the House.

Sen. Joe Fain, R- Auburn, introduced the bill.

The bill appears prompted by voter approval of last November's Initiative 1351, which requires the state to dramatically improve teacher-student ratios in grades K-12. Implementing that initiative is estimated to cost $2 billion in 2015-2017. The state has no money earmarked for the undertaking, and Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators are fretting over how to deal with the unfunded mandate.

Fain said that the bill would provide vital information to voters on an initiative. "What's the cost? What's the cost to the state, and through the state, what's the costs to the taxpayers?" Fain said.

"This makes people think more about the tradeoffs," said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, spoke against the measure, objecting to a relying on the state Office of Financial Management to provide a good estimate of an initiative's costs. He wanted the measure to be delayed at least for one year.

The bill needed two-thirds approval by the Senate, because president pro tempore Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, ruled it concerns a constitutional issue. The 41 "yes" votes easily cleared that hurdle. Seven of the more conservative Republicans voted against the bill along with one liberal Democrat, Sen. Marko Liias of Mukilteo. If the House agrees with Roach's interpretation, the bill will need 66 House votes to pass.


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John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8