1. King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled yesterday that Tim Eyman’s I-1366, which voters approved 51.52 to 48.48 last November, was unconstitutional. The Eyman measure said that unless the legislature proposed a constitutional amendment to the people mandating that tax increases require a two-thirds vote, the legislature otherwise had to cut the sales tax by one percentage point, from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent. The state’s office of financial management said scaling back the sales tax by that much would cost the state $8 billion dollars over the next six years.
In an opinionated opinion, Judge Downing said the measure was unconstitutional for two main reasons. First, he ruled that it “usurped the role of the legislature” by dictating the terms of a constitutional amendment. (Constitutional amendments cannot be determined by initiative; the legislature is supposed to propose and deliberate on them independently and send them to voters with a two-thirds majority vote. It then takes a simple majority of voters to approve the amendment.)
“It is solely the province of the legislative branch to ‘propose’ an amendment to the state constitution,” the judge wrote, “the intended process—one that is constitutionally mandated—is one that facilitates a calm deliberation of independent weighing of alternatives before a proposed amendment is submitted for public review. That process is derailed by the pressure-wielding mechanism in this initiative which exceeds the scope of the initiative power.”
The judge went on to say the initiative violated the constitution by “usurping the role of the legislature by proposing precise terms for a constitutional amendment…tying its hands in an impermissible way.”
The second legal problem with 1366, the judge said, was that it violated the constitutional rule requiring initiatives to only deal with one subject—unless there is some “rational unity.”
The judge didn’t find any rational unity, but instead found straight up bullying, saying the measure used “direct, substantial, and immediate, pressure on legislators” to “either blithely or belligerently undercut” the constitutional process.
The constitution requires that “Legislation has won approval on its own merits and not those of some other thoroughbred to which its wagon may be hitched,” the judge wrote, concluding that “I-1366 violates this …by combining two separate actions of law that lack rational unity.”
After the ruling, Eyman, pointing to the will of the people, wrote in an email to his supporters: “Obviously, we disagree [with] this judge's ruling. And it's important to remember this: The votes of the people didn't change as a result of this judge's ruling.”
The state attorney general, liberal Democrat Bob Ferguson, who defended the initiative in court, told me he will appeal the decision to the state supreme court. "My job is to defend initiatives approved by the voters. We will be appealing."
2. An estimated 150 people showed up at Wallingford Community Council meeting on Wednesday night week to condemn mayor Ed Murray’s housing affordability plan (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda), complaining that Murray had “teamed up with developers and advocacy organizations [who] promote housing density and want to change the way we live.” Murray’s plan proposes upzones in urban villages.
I listed the neighbors' specific complaints in my post yesterday—they’re worried about parking, demolition of existing housing, yuppie rents, and loopholes for developers, and increased heights.
Viet Shelton, the mayor’s spokesman, responded to the neighbors at length later in the day, telling me in an email:
The goal of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee was to come up with a comprehensive set of proposals to ensure we create a city that works for everyone. With over 60 proposals, it will take significant public process and time to fully deliberate and implement them. We are in the middle of this extensive outreach process and community discussion now.
One of the integral parts of HALA is the Grand Bargain. A policy proposal, that once implemented, will require that ALL new multifamily and commercial development in Seattle will pay for or build affordable housing. Every. New. Development.
Part of the grand bargain does include allowing additional height, usually about an extra floor or two, in Urban Villages (which were established decades ago by communities to concentrate growth and density). In exchange for additional height, developers will be required—for the first time—to set aside a portion of the new homes for affordable housing (or pay directly for new affordable housing). The purpose of the HALA recommendations is to build inclusive, vibrant, affordable, walkable neighborhoods with better access to transit, park space and socio-economic diversity. This is critical to our goal of addressing issues of equity, and ensuring that Seattle is a city where people who work here can also afford to live here. We also know that building sustainable neighborhoods where people are closer to their jobs and schools has an environmental benefit.
To preserve affordable market housing that already exists and address displacement, the Mayor is working with other mayors from around the state to pass a new law in Olympia called the Preservation Tax Exemption. If passed, this bill will preserve approximately 3,000 units of existing homes at income-restricted, affordable levels.
Thanks to the voters in 2014, Seattle is funding the largest expansion of bus services since Metro was created. Specifically, for the area around Wallingford, the E line, 44, 26, 16, 31, and 32 are all receiving boosts in frequency and reliability. Additionally, the Move Seattle levy will fund the creation of a rapid ride plus/bus rapid transit corridor east-west where the 44 currently runs today.
Finally, getting affordability right is one of the biggest challenges facing cities across America today, and it’s important to note, that increasingly, as other cities are struggling (for example, a similar proposal in Chicago is currently being tied up in lawsuits by developers because it requires affordable housing), Seattle is starting to get noticed for getting growth right.
3. The race to replace state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill)—he's giving up his seat to run for U.S. congress—is likely to feature two emerging stars from the progressive community: Nicole Macri, the director of housing at homeless advocacy nonprofit the Downtown Emergency Services Center, and Danni Askini, the executive director of the transgender rights group, the Gender Justice League.
Sources from both camps have told me Askini and Macri are gearing up to run for Walkinshaw's open seat. Homelessness and transgender rights are both headline issues right now.
Askini would be the first transgender person elected to the Washington state legislature. Only a handful of trans people have been elected to office in the United States including state representative Althea Garrison, a Republican who was elected to the Massachusetts state house in 1993.