Morning Fizz

A Bipartisan Constitutional Amendment to Change the Initiative Process

Caffeinated news featuring constitutional amendments, Obamacare, and Bertha.

January 22, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. Amending the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the state legislature and a simple majority vote of the public.

Well, with liberal Democrats such as Seattle Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) and Pramila Jayapal (D-37, SE Seattle) on board, plus conservatives such as Republican Sens. John Braun (R-20, Centralia) and Steve O'Ban (R-28, Tacoma), along with a parade of senators in the middle, including  Republican Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill), the senate introduced a bill yesterday that could be on its way to changing the constitution

The bipartisan bill (with 38 co-sponsors overall—five more than the two-thirds required) would amend the initiative system by stopping unfunded mandates (passing a directive without identifying the funding), like the one the left-leaning teachers' union passed last year for smaller class sizes which has added an estimated $1.5 billion to this cycle's budget. The amendment would also stop conservative attempts to stall revenue such as Tim Eyman's parade of car tab and property tax cuts like 695 and 747, unless the initiative, unlike Eyman's measures, outlined the corresponding cuts.

This prohibition applies to initiatives that modify either state expenditures or state revenues.

A non-partisan summary of the legislation explains: "The state Constitution is amended to provide that the Secretary of State ... cannot accept the filing of an initiative that causes the state budget to violate the statutory balanced budget requirement. This prohibition applies to initiatives that modify either state expenditures or state revenues. The determination must be made within 20 days of the issuance of the official ballot title for the initiative. The prohibition does not apply to an initiative that amends or repeals an increase in a state tax, if the initiative is filed within one year of the enactment of the tax increase."

Co-sponsor Sen. Pedersen said: "Although it would foreclose certain initiatives, I believe it actually strengthens the initiative process. Voters’ choices are much more likely to be put into effect if they are 'funded.'"

(Gov. Inslee's budget proposal, for example, only partially funds WEA's K-12 class-size initiative, I-1351 putting $448 million toward smaller class sizes in K-3.)

Pedersen continues: "When the legislature suspends or repeals initiatives that are impossible to reconcile with our budget commitments, it creates a cycle of mistrust and cynicism. This amendment would help to break that cycle and treat voters as adults who can be trusted to consider the tradeoffs that are inherent in financial decisions."

State Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-32, Seattle) is collecting signatures for a companion bill in the house.

2. At the behest of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Fugere, the owner of Seattle's Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, testified in D.C. in front of the senate's Health, Education, Labor, Pensions (HELP) Committee. Sen. Murray is the ranking Democrat on the committee, which is taking up a GOP proposal to increase the eligibility requirement under Obamacare to 40 hours a week to receive coverage from the current 30 hours a week.

City Congressional Budget Office numbers, Democrats like Murray worry that changing the threshold will force one million workers off job-based health insurance, shifting $53.2 billion in costs from employers to taxpayers over the next decade

Democrats also worry the change incentivizes employers to cut employee hours, nudging them down from 40 hours a week.

Fugere said this morning: "As we continue to shift towards a more service-based economy, we need to give large numbers of people in this workforce more opportunities to be successful and healthy in the years and decades ahead."

3. Veteran City Council member Nick Licata, who announced he's not seeking re-election yesterday, offered some thoughts on the tunnel fiasco. Licata, more of a rebuild guy, eventually signed off on the tunnel project. 

"No offense to Spokane and Tacoma and the other cities including Bellevue, but Seattle, whether you like it or not, is where the concentration of economic activity is in this state."

"Bertha is a problem. I think we can't ignore it being a problem. I quite honestly don't see a cheaper solution—that's the problem. Even if we were to stop right now. We'd still have a $2 billion cost in front of us."

And Licata went on to say Bertha was the state's problem: 

"It is. That is our motto, and we're sticking to it. The way it could become a Seattle problem is if some of the legislators decide to shoot themselves in the head by allowing Seattle to have traffic congestion that's not resolved. They have to recognize, Seattle is the economic engine for this state. No offense to Spokane and Tacoma and the other cities including Bellevue, but Seattle, whether you like it or not, is where the concentration of economic activity is in this state.

"So, it's critical that we resolve the transportation problems in the city. And they have to recognize that. And the burden should fall mostly on the chamber because the chamber probably has a few more connections to the Republican Party than the city council does. And I think they can play a critical role in getting bipartisan support for recognizing it's the state's responsibility the tunnel gets completed."

Licata didn't mention Mayor Ed Murray and all his supposed influence in Olympia, though.

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