Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Four initiatives and a referendum await statewide voters.

A horde of clipboard-toting people vacated the sidewalks on July 2, when the clock ran out for statewide signature gathering. Sponsors of four initiatives and a referendum turned in enough to virtually guarantee spots on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Although they didn't hit the streets until April, the League of Education Voters turned in more than 327,000 signatures for Initiative 884, far more than the required 197,734. The measure would raise the retail sales tax by 1 percent and use the revenue for education—to help low-income children attend preschool, add K-12 programs, increase enrollment, scholarships, and research at colleges and universities, and raise salaries for some teachers and school district employees.

Natalie Reber, director of communications for the Initiative 884 committee, is confident voters will pass the measure in November. "We're getting so much support everywhere we go," she said. "And not just from education people, but from established business leaders in government, and citizens in general who send their kids to schools, every day, they know are inadequate." Opponents, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, say Initiative 884's annual billion-dollar tax increase will hurt the state economy.

Initiative 892 will also likely make the ballot, pulling in 274,293 signatures in eight weeks. The measure would allow electronic scratch-ticket machines, currently permitted only at tribal casinos, in licensed nontribal gambling establishments. Revenue from license fees would go to decrease property taxes.

Everyone wants lower taxes, says its primary promoter, initiative-obsessed Tim Eyman, but most don't want to see money and programs taken away. He calls I-892 the "revenue-neutral tax-cutting machine." "People in favor of tax cutting in general like it a lot, and people not overly supportive of past tax-cutting initiatives are drawn to this one because it doesn't cost the government anything," Eyman says.

The measure also is intended to level the playing field for tribal and nontribal gambling establishments. Opposition is strong from tribes, who think their commun­ities will be irreparably harmed by expansion of off-reservation gambling. "It's very much a tribal versus nontribal battle going on here, and the referee is going to be the voters," Eyman says.

The Washington State Grange, sponsor of Initiative 872, is counting on voter anger to push the proposal into law. The initiative would establish a "top-two" qualifying primary election, and the Grange is confident that frustration with the new, so-called Montana-style primary on Sept. 14 will ensure passage of I-872. "This thing is not only going to pass, it's going to pass by a landslide," says David Burr, communications director for the Grange. "Especially when people see how the system has been changed in September. They are going to be angry about it."

The top-two primary actually was adopted by the Legislature last winter, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Washington could no longer conduct its traditional blanket primary, in which a voter could vote for any candidate, regardless of party. But Gov. Gary Locke vetoed part of the bill, leaving only a backup plan for a party-specific nominating primary. The Grange appealed Locke's veto, but the state Supreme Court upheld the governor. So this year, citizens must choose one of three party-specific primary slates—for Democrats, Republicans, or Libertarians. Independents may vote in the primary but must stick to one party's slate.

In the top-two primary that Locke vetoed, voters would have chosen any candidate for any office. The two candidates with the most votes would have moved on to the general election. The Republican and Democratic parties have challenged I-872 every step of the way, claiming it would allow people who are not members to pick a party's candidates. Locke says he vetoed the primary because it would have limited voter choice in the general election. Conceivably, for example, the two candidates for an office in the general election could be from the same party under the top-two system. Counters the Grange's Burr: "People were enthusiastic about signing. They went as far as to say that 'if my freedom [to cross party lines] gets taken away from me, I'm just not going to vote anymore.'"

Initiative 297 was guaranteed a spot on the ballot back in January when the Legislature did not act on it. It seeks to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland. Heart of America Northwest and a coalition of other organizations collected more than 282,000 signatures, a record number for initiatives to the Legislature. The measure would prohibit shipment of more nuclear waste to Hanford from out of state until the waste already there has been cleaned up and stored, treated, or disposed of in compliance with state and federal environmental laws. Opponents say that as long as the country relies on nuclear energy and weapons, somebody has to store the dangerous by-products. They ask rhetorically: Who better than the competent experts at Hanford?

With an estimated 135,745 valid signatures, well more than the required 98,867, Refer­endum 55 is also almost certain to be on the November ballot. Sponsored by the Washington Education Association (WEA), the teachers union, the measure asks citizens to vote for or against charter public schools. A law authorizing them was to go into effect June 10 but has been suspended until results of the general election.

Deborah Carns, communications director for the WEA, says charter schools would drain more than $100 million from the standard public-school system. "The research doesn't show charter schools perform any better than the current public-school system, and in some cases they perform worse," she adds.

Signatures for these five measures won't be officially certified until Aug. 15.

egarland@seattleweekly.com

 
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