By Pat Grubb
Apart from deciding who would be the better candidate for President, the Donald or Hillary, local voters in this year’s general election have a slew of initiatives, advisory votes and a Senate Joint Resolution to consider. In fact, voters will first need to plow through 58 pages of the state voters’ pamphlet before they get to look at candidates running for federal, state and local offices.
But they’re not finished yet – local tax levies and initiatives begin on page 109 and go on until page 149. Reading it in bed is a surefire way to get a good night’s rest. Here’s an abbreviated look at state initiatives.
Show me the money
One problem with the voters’ pamphlet is that it doesn’t identify who has paid for, and has a vested interest in, getting the initiative on the ballot. We’ve included the latest figures shown on the Public Disclosure Commission website (bit.ly/2erLkbK).
If it’s not clear whether the initiative has merit, check out who has written the statements for and against.
This initiative would establish higher minimum wages, require employers to offer paid sick leave and adopt related laws.
Washington state calculates cost of living increases to the minimum wage every fall which goes into effect the following January. The current minimum wage is $9.47 an hour for employees 18 years or older. A full-time worker would make $19,697 annually. Projected increases under current law anticipates increases to; 2017 – $9.55 ($19,864); 2018 – $9.77 ($20,321); 2019 – $10.02 ($20,841) and on up to $10.83 ($22,526) in 2022.
If approved, I-1433 would increase the minimum wage on January 1, 2017 to $11/hour ($22,880) and by 50 cents an hour each January until 2021 when it would go from $13.50 ($28,080) to $13.86 ($28,828) and another 37 cents the following year to $14.23 ($29,598).
The mandatory sick leave would provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked by an employee and up to 40 hours of sick leave could be carried over to the next year. Employers would be free to offer more generous terms if they so desired.
The No on I-1433 PAC has reported contributions of $85,171 mainly from business organizations such as the Washington Retail Association ($10,000), Washington Restaurant Association ($25,000) and the Association of Washington Business ($15,000). Raise Up Washington’s (Yes on I-1433) latest campaign contribution reports shows it has received $4,222,062 with significant donations from unions (SEIU $100,000, Washington State Labor Council $10,000) while The Fairness Project, a California-based nonprofit entity that supports state initiatives to raise minimum wages, has shoveled $100,000 into the effort.
This initiative would create a publicly funded campaign finance system that would initially only apply to state offices. Funding would come from repealing the non-resident sales tax exemption which, in 2017, is expected to increase sales tax revenue by $9,912,000. The measure would also restrict former public employees or elected officials from lobbying employment for a period of time (ranging from 3 to 5 years) and would add enforcement
Two PACs were formed to oppose the initiative, No on Initiative 1464 – Our Kids Before Politics and the Coalition to Stop Corruption and Save Jobs. The latter received $272 in donations while the former raised $28,000 from the Kroger Company ($3,000), the Building Industry Association ($5,000) and $10,000 apiece from the Washington Food Industry and Associated General Contractors.
The supporters of the initiative raised considerably more money. Integrity Washington reported total contributions of $3,500,275 as of October 24 with some big-league backers chipping in for the cause.
Interestingly, the majority of smaller contributors were unemployed but still managed to give to the campaign. Bertha Agrait from Elmhurst, N.Y. donated $1.25, Linda Honey from Detroit gave $1 as did Rowena Travis from Oroville, California while Suck-Min Kim from Lake Forest Park, Washington gave $1.25. Leading the list of whales contributing mightily to the cause were Microsoft co-founder and LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, who made four donations totaling $750,000; anti-corruption nonprofit organization Represent Us with five donations totaling $660,000; Jonathan Soros, liberal political donor (and son of billionaire George Soros) who gave $575,000; political reform organization Every Voice which donated $375,000 as did investment fund manager and marriage equality activist Sean Eldridge (who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes); Cantillion Capital Management president William Von Mueffling who gave $100,000 as did JJ Abrams, who directed Star Wars, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible films.
While Washington law currently allows courts to restrict access to firearms to individuals accused of domestic abuse or criminal activity under certain conditions, this measure would create two types of “extreme risk protection orders.” These orders would allow police, family or household members to obtain court orders that would prohibit, for a one-year period, access to firearms by individuals exhibiting mental illness, violent behavior or signs that they may harm
themselves or others.
The difference between the two types of orders lay in their immediacy and venue. While both types of orders require certain criteria to be met, the first kind would be heard by a Superior Court judge. The second type is more immediate and is termed an “ex parte” order, as the hearing can be held without giving notice to the individual posing the danger. That hearing may be held in a municipal, district or superior court and must be held on the day the petition is filed or on the court’s next business day. A Superior Court judge must then hold a hearing within 14 days to determine if all requirements for a one-year protection order have been met.
Proponents of the initiative had big help with total contributions of $4,012,818, starting with $550,000 from the NY-based Everytown for Gun Safety anti-gun violence organization; $500,000 from Steve Ballmer; $301,000 from Second Avenue venture fund co-founder Nick Hanauer and $250,000 from Microsoft co-founder (and 40th richest person in the world with $18 billion) Paul G. Allen.
This measure would increase already-existing penalties for criminal identity theft and civil consumer fraud that is targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals. It would also exempt from public disclosure certain information regarding vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers except to other government agencies or to a certified collective bargaining
Opponents of this measure say it was written by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to prevent in-home caregivers and childcare providers from learning they can’t be compelled to pay union dues to SEIU. As of October 25, local SEIU 775 had contributed $1,606,491 to the campaign.
This measure would introduce a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil fuel-generated electricity, reduce the state sales tax by one percentage point, increase the low-income exemption and decrease the business and occupation tax. The carbon tax would go into effect on July 1, 2017.
Big money has come to play with this initiative. Campaign contributions for the measure include Audubon Washington ($462,450) and Carbon Washington ($1,463,034) while those against include No on 732 sponsored by the Association of Washington Business ($387,774) and the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association ($40,097).
Businesses and individuals can find out how they would fare under the tax regime by going to the non-partisan Carbon Tax Swap Calculator website at bit.ly/2eO0GUX.
Speaking of big money, I-735 calls on the Washington state congressional delegation to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations and constitutionally protected free speech excludes the spending of money. Such an amendment, if adopted, would negate U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as the “money is speech” Buckley vs. Valeo 1976 campaign finance case and “corporations are people” Citizens United 2008 case that opened a floodgate of cash into super PACs.
A proposed amendment requires a super-majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate which would then need ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths (38) of the states. Backers behind the measure have declared nearly $700,000 in
Whatcom County Proposition No. 2016-1
Countywide, the most important tax measure on the ballot is Proposition 2016-1 which would create a six-year property tax levy for emergency medical services. If approved, beginning in 2017, property owners would be taxed an additional 29.5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation for the provision of emergency medical services (EMS). The owner of a $300,000 property would pay an extra $88.50 in taxes.
Currently, EMS is funded by a voter-approved sales tax ($2.3 million), user fees ($2.5 million) and money from the city of Bellingham and county general funds ($1.1 million and $1.4 million, respectively) for a total of $7.3 million. Even still, EMS is expected to end up with around a $1 million shortfall, which will be drawn from reserves.
Proponents say the tax will enable the system to balance the budget, hire an administrator, train staff and provide for the future addition of a fifth ambulance. Opponents argue that the measure is ill-conceived and is unnecessary at this time. The Committee on Public Safety points out that King County, for example, has one advanced life support ambulance per 75,000 people while Whatcom County has four ALS ambulances for a population of about 200,000 or one for every 50,000 people. As ALS ambulances on average only make two calls per shift, the committee believes there’s no pressing need for another ambulance for at least 10 years.
Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws has also said there’s no need for an EMS levy given other more pressing priorities facing the county, such as a new jail. He told county councilmembers back in the spring before they voted to place the levy on the November ballot that the county could continue to support the EMS from the county’s general fund.
The tax levy will require a 60 percent super-majority in order to pass. Voters should note that the levy will be duplicative to the taxes they currently pay: property owners will continue to pay the same amount into the general funds and the EMS sales tax and user fees will remain the same.