SJR 8206 – A constitutional amendment on the budget stabilization account maintained by the state treasury.
This amendment would require the legislature to transfer additional moneys to the budget stabilization account in each fiscal biennium in which the state has received extraordinary revenue growth, as defined, with certain limitations.
There are two ways to smooth out revenue fluctuations from year to year. One of them is to borrow from the future, which is what the federal government does. However, the state constitution requires a balanced budget and getting that changed isn’t politically doable. The other way is to put money away, to be drawn down when times are bad. That’s how Washington State currently does it. (Some states don’t do it at all.)
The rainy day fund is currently about $300 million. The revenue shortfall is about $2 billion. In other words, the rainy day fund turned out to not be large enough. Not even close.
This amendment requires that, if the state has growth that is more than 33% above the 10 year growth rate, the amount above that be put into the rainy day fund. In other words, don’t spend as much money when times are really flush and story it away. We currently save 1% of our revenues, and this won’t change that. It only adds additional saving for flush times.
The no argument is that we should spend that money on needed services instead. And while that is an attractive argument, we’d have to cut off those programs a few years later during the next recession. I’d rather us have sustainable programs.
And it’s much preferable to save the money than rebate taxes. That doesn’t prepare us at all for the next recession.
SJR 8205 – removes Article VI, Section 1A of the Washington Constitution.
This amendment would remove an inoperative provision from the state constitution regarding the length of time a voter must reside in Washington to vote for president and vice-president.
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. But before I explain why, here’s the provision which will be removed if this passes:
SECTION 1A VOTER QUALIFICATIONS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. In consideration of those citizens of the United States who become residents of the state of Washington during the year of a presidential election with the intention of making this state their permanent residence, this section is for the purpose of authorizing such persons who can meet all qualifications for voting as set forth in section 1 of this article, except for residence, to vote for presidential electors or for the office of President and Vice-President of the United States, as the case may be, but no other: Provided, That such persons have resided in the state at least sixty days immediately preceding the presidential election concerned.
The legislature shall establish the time, manner and place for such persons to cast such presidential ballots.
Basically the deal is that at the time, the 60 day requirement was much more lenient than the normal residency requirement for voting in Washington. However, the Supreme Court invalidated all laws that establish a residency requirement that’s greater than 30 days for presidential elections. And now we just have a 30 day requirement anyway. So why not clean this provision up?
I’ll be voting for it. Even if it wasn’t inoperative, I’m in favor of making voting easier.
This measure would close state liquor stores and sell their assets; license private parties to sell and distribute spirits; set license fees based on sales; regulate licensees; and change regulation of wine distribution.
For the last few years, Costco has sponsored initiatives to privatize liquors sales and distribution. I’m generally in favor of the idea, but have opposed the specific measures in the past, and I oppose I-1183 as well. But it won’t break my heart if it passes either.
Right now beer and wine can be sold in private retail stores in Washington. Hard liquor is sold only from restaurants, bars, and retail stores run by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. I believe the hard liquor monopoly is a remnant of prohibition. I-1183 directs the state to sell any assets related to liquor sales or distribution. In practice this will mean that the stores will be closed, because another item in the measure limits sales to stores with 10,000 square feet. In other words, grocery stores and big box discount stores.
The measure does not eliminate the three tier system for distribution though; we’ll still have producers, distributors, and retailers. But some companies will be allowed to be their own distributors, bypassing the middle man. That means places like Costco can sell liquor more cheaply. Which is something I’d be fine with, but it will probably freeze out small producers from the largest sales channel in the state. Right now they have a better opening into the distribution system. I don’t know where I come down on that. I’d like small producers to survive, but I don’t agree with doing it by monopoly power and price fixing.
I-1183 will raise revenues for the state, from $5 million to $8 million in 2012, and $35 million to $42 million in 2017, depending on assumptions. Local government revenues increase as well. These are the numbers the state came up with. The No On 1183 campaign likes to portray this as a tax increase and therefore bad. People don’t have to buy hard liquor, so it doesn’t bother me much.
Where my opposition comes though is that liquor will more or less only be sold in grocery stores. My ideal privatization measure would sell off the stores to be operated privately. Or allow private companies to open competing liquor stores. But spreading liquor sales into groceries worries me.
Initiative 1163 – concerning long-term care workers and services for elderly and disabled people.
This measure would reinstate background checks, training, and other requirements for long-term care workers and providers, if amended in 2011; and address financial accountability and administrative expenses of the long-term in-home care program.
Quick background that I know most of my friends know, but not everyone who stumbles on this will. I spent 3 years caring for my mother during her terminal illness and for my grandparents as their health declined before they died. I hired a number of people to help care for my mother. We did not use an agency for reasons that are not germane to this. There was no good way to determine the qualifications or experience for these caregivers, and it was a crapshoot with respect to the care they gave. For my grandmother, I insisted we use an agency that performed background checks at least, and they supposedly gave their workers some minimal training.
In 2008, I voted for an initiative that created a licensing program and training for long term caregivers. It passed by a large margin. Since then, the state legislature delayed some of the requirements instituted by that initiative. This was an attempt to save money given the horrible budget constraints the state experienced. Instead of starting in 2012, the program now starts in 2014.
If I could be sure this was a one-time delay, I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep. I wouldn’t like it, but we’d get the improvement in standards fairly shortly. However, given that we continue to have budget constraints, I fully expect the legislature to delay the start of the program again. I do not want it to be indefinitely delayed. If this initiative passes, the program starts in 2012, and the legislature can’t amend it for two years. By which time it will have started. It’s much harder to shut down an existing program than to delay one that hasn’t started.
I don’t care that it costs some money. In an ideal world, market forces would create a mechanism for ensuring care, but that hasn’t happened. The only way to ensure good long term care is to have a lot of money. People who are disabled or dying deserve a minimum level of care even if they are poor, and this initiative goes a long way to ensuring that.
As I do most years, I like to write up how I plan to vote in the upcoming election and why. Although people are welcome to comment, or counter-argue, or whatever, the point of posting these is not to debate. Neither is the reason for posting these explanations to convince anyone, particularly people who disagree with my positions. I’m simply stating my opinion.
Initiative 1125 – Concerning state expenditures on transportation.
This measure would prohibit the use of motor vehicle fund revenue and vehicle toll revenue for non-transportation purposes, and require that road and bridge tolls be set by the legislature and be project-specific.
That’s the ballot title and question. Which, unfortunately, is pretty bland and misleading. There are a grab bag of provisions in the initiative, most of which are bad:
Right now the legislature authorizes tolling on specific roads or bridges, and the state transportation commission sets the actual toll rates. I-1125 requires that the legislature set the tolls. That’s a guarantee for a political clusterfuck. Need to raise tolls to pay to repave or for structural fixes? A group of eastern washington legislators can hold it up. It also means every individual toll decision is subject to referendum.
It requires that tolls be uniform. That’s to remove what’s called congestion pricing. Want to cut down on people using the 520 bridge during rush hour? Charge a higher toll during rush hour. This provision would prevent that.
But the real reason behind the initiative is to prevent using I-90 for light rail. If this passes, there is no light rail to Bellevue. The main person bankrolling the initiative is the owner of Bellevue Square and a major investor in car culture related projects.
One of the effects of the initiative, though not explicitly part of it, is that it reduces the bonding capability for the 520 bridge replacement, which has already started. So to finish the bridge, the WSDOT will need to cancel about $500 million worth of other projects and shift the money to 520.
Really, all a person needs to do is look at who is sponsoring the initiative: Tim Eyman. He had one good initiative (performance audits) and a shit-ton of crappy ones. Including this one.
Initiative Measure No. 1100 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). The measure would close state liquor stores; authorize sale, distribution, and importation of spirits by private parties; and repeal certain requirements that govern the business operations of beer and wine distributers and producers.
Initiative Measure No. 1105 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). The measure would close all state liquor stores and license private parties to sell or distribute spirits. It would revise laws concerning regulation, taxation and government revenues from distribution and sale of spirits.
The state government should not be operating private retail stores absent some important reason. The fact that Washington State does is (I assume) a vestige of the repeal of Prohibition, combined with a large amount of inertia. It does make getting liquor for minors somewhat more difficult, but not exactly because security at these stores is tight. They do have a better record at refusing sales to minors. But I think the real reason state liquor stores do better is that they aren’t so busy and there aren’t too many of them. The stores have a high markup, and limited selection. As some bars have noted, they cannot get some liquors for their businesses and service is not good.
There are two initiatives on the ballot that would get the state out of the liquor selling business. If both pass, how things will shake out will be anyone’s guess.
I-1100 is the Costco sponsored initiative. It removes a lot of the regulation on liquor sales as well as getting the state out of it. Places that have a license to sell beer and wine could get a liquor sales license, and the state would be limited in what it could regulate with regards to liquor sales. The key part for Costco is that it eliminates the current three tier system: manufacturer, distributor and retailer. As a retailer, they could skip the distributor and go straight to the manufacturer. The measure retains the current taxes on liquor.
I-1105 requires the state to close its stores, but retains more of the regulatory framework. The three-tier system would remain in place. Retailers must by from distributors. And distributors cannot offer better prices to one customer that to another, though they could offer volume discounts. Costco doesn’t like it, because they would like to negotiate lower prices directly from manufacturers that aren’t available to other retailers. The WSLCB would create a new license for retailers and establish the rules for it. For instance, they refrain from issuing new licenses in areas that are saturated with liquor sellers. The measure would remove most taxes on liquor sales (not sure about sales taxes) and direct the WSLCB to propose a new tax to the legislature.
I will be voting for I-1105 and against I-1100. While I think anti-drinking goes too far sometimes (like freaking out over restaurants that allow patrons to drink in their sidewalk seating), the fact that liquor is intoxicating means we should be exercising some discretion in how we sell it. I-1100 doesn’t allow for that. For instance, I-1105 could allow the WSLCB to require that liquor be sold in separated areas from other goods, while I-1100 does not. I’m not so keen on the requirement for three tiers, though I do like the requirement that distributors offer uniform prices. I’m agnostic toward the tax change. It comes down to the ability to regulate liquor retailers.
Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes. The measure would tax “adjusted gross income” above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers), reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.
This one is another easy one for me. Washington has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, because it relies heavily on the business and occupation tax, and the sales tax. Both of those taxes make low income folks pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes than higher earners. The B&O tax because it gets passed on in prices, though a fair amount of it is non-consumer goods. As people make more money, the marginal sales tax rate with respect to a person’s income falls because consumption falls off at higher incomes. Money moves from consumption to investment. To explain, if you are broke, the next $5 you get will be spent on food (or gas, or whatever). If you made $1,000,000 last year, the next $5 will much more likely be used to buy stocks (or bonds or whatever). The sales tax on the poor person’s $5 is going to be approximately 50¢ where the sales tax on the rich person’s $5 will be close to zero. The choice to not spend is constrained the poorer one is.
We also rely heavily on a property tax, but that also gets passed on to anyone who lives in the state. It’s either direct, or paid out in higher rent. I don’t think property taxes are as regressive as the sales tax, but they are still regressive.
I1098 establishes a high earners income tax for the state, while cutting a portion of property taxes and B&O taxes. Income taxes can sometimes be regressive, but they are easier to structure to avoid it. In this case, it’s very progressive. People who need the next $5 to eat won’t get taxed. People who invest it in stock will. For that reason alone I am for it.
I also think it will help stabilize the state’s revenue somewhat. Not completely, but a bit. Aggregate income is a better gauge of the state’s economic activity than consumption. Consumption can only drop so low, and it can only climb so high. It allows the state to skim off the income in good years for the bad. We currently do that with sales taxes, to some degree.
The only arguments I’ve seen against it are hysterical rantings. The legislature will extend it to other people in 2 years!! Yup. They could. They could establish an income tax and extend it right now. This changes nothing with regard to what the legislature could do. And it changes nothing as far as people’s ability to oppose it. If people are against increasing the tax, and the voters don’t want it, they’ll vote them out. Or have a referendum against the law.
I’ve also seen but I’m not rich even though I made nearly $2,000,000 last year. And even no one I know who makes $200,000 is rich. It’s not fair to MEEEEE! Here’s something to think about: SHUT THE FUCK UP! You are rich. This is not the end of the world. You can better afford this than someone making $20,000. They’ve been sucking it up for years. Now you’ll have to for a bit.
By the way, in case you were wondering, these opinion piece aren’t really intended to convince people. These are polemics which explain my reasoning for voting for them. I fully realize telling a rich person to STFU isn’t going to convince them to vote for this.
Initiative Measure No. 1082 concerns industrial insurance. The measure would authorize employers to purchase private industrial insurance beginning July 1, 2012; direct the legislature to enact conforming legislation by March 1, 2012; and eliminate the worker-paid share of medical-benefit premiums.
My opinion on this one won’t be as long as I-1053. I’m all for having private workman’s comp insurance options, but I don’t think this initiative is the way to do it. My concern is with who wrote this: the Building Industry Association of Washington. The No on I-1082 campaign has a detailed list of the problems they see in the fine print of the initiative. Their take is that the fine print will leave workers on the hook for job related health problems (injuries, occupational illnesses, etc.) for businesses that choose to go this route.
I’m not a lawyer. I can’t parse through all the fine print and compare it to existing law, regulations, and court cases to see where it falls down. I don’t exactly believe the F.U.D. pushed by the no campaign either. I have read the detailed text of the initiative though, and it’s certainly not a clean easy to understand bill. While those issues may not be nefarious, they could be, and I don’t have a good way to tell. If it were the product of negotiation in the legislature, I’d be in favor. But it’s not.
I-1082 is the product of a conservative business organization that’s known for looking out for it’s interests instead of the general public. If you look at the list of organizations endorsing the initiative on the Yes on I-1082 web site, every single one of them is a business interest. Their argument is that if they can get cheaper insurance, they’ll hire more people. I really don’t think that’s the case. They’ll take the difference and put it into their profits (or maybe lower prices if the particular industry is extra competitive). You don’t pay more for one ingredient because you pay less for another. They’ll increase wages only if the demand for labor increases relative to the supply, and this doesn’t change that ratio at all. I just don’t see this as a net win for workers.
So I’ll vote against I-1082. If called on to vote on a version created by the legislature, I’d vote for that.
A few of my friends have asked if I planned to write about my opinions on the upcoming election, particularly regarding the initiatives on the ballot. I love spouting off my opinion, so here I go! Of course, I want to point out to my 3 or 4 readers that none of what I write is particularly original. You can probably find much better argumentation elsewhere on the internet.
Initiative 1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. The measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.
This is a Tim Eyman measure. That alone almost tells you how I will vote on it. The only Eyman measure I’ve ever voted for was the one that instituted performance audits.
Several previous Eyman measures passed that duplicate what this measure does. But the state legislature has suspended the rules instituted by those initiatives in order to pass budgets. How does that work? According to the Washington state constitution, Article II, Section 1(c), after two years the legislature may do what it wants with any initiative. During the two years, changing an initiative requires a 2/3 vote of the legislature. It’s been more than two years, so they suspended it. This initiative basically unsuspends it for another two years. (The legislature did not overturn the law, just suspended it.)
Well, as you can guess, this royally pissed off the Eyman crowd, and that’s why they have this initiative.
My view is that a supermajority should only be required for extra-ordinary circumstances, things that don’t happen too often: changing the state constitution, declaring war, suspending civil rights, expelling a legislator. A supermajority means that a minority of people can prevent action. That’s appropriate to prevent civil rights from being abrogated. It’s appropriate to keep a power from being unchecked. But for mundane things, it’s inappropriate to require a consensus. It checks power too much. We already have mundane checks on power for mundane things: voting out legislators, separate bodies of the legislature, gubernatorial vetoes, the court system, referendum, and probably lots more that I haven’t thought of.
There’s nothing more mundane for the legislature about running government than determining the budget, taxes, and spending. Holding the running of the government hostage to a minority is bad business. As much as I object to funding abstinence only sex education, for instance, I don’t think a liberal minority should hold that up. (Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case recently.) I have the option of voting for a different candidate, for collecting petitions on a referendum, or having a sympathetic governor veto it (or line-item veto it).
I have another philosophical problem with this initiative, like the previous versions of it: it attacks a made up problem. Washington state does not have out of control taxation. I-1053 proponents would have you believe that the legislature can’t prioritize and so it just increases taxes to fund everything it wants. But that’s not the case. The Great Recession reduced the state’s revenues by billions. From I-1053 proponents, you’d think the legislature’s response was to raise taxes and fund all previous programs. We faced a reduction of revenue to the tune of about $2.8 billion for the current budget. The legislature raised about $780 million in taxes. The state received another $1.4 billion from other sources, such as the federal government and the rainy day fund. It cut about $714 million from the budget. I certainly think people can legitimately argue that there should have been more cuts. What is ludicrous is the idea that government just taxes and spends.
The approach is wrong. Don’t just say the legislature has it’s priorities wrong. Tell them exactly how it’s wrong. Get signatures on an initiative that eliminates programs you think are wasteful. (Initiatives can’t actually budget though. That does make things more difficult for this method.) I almost never see people who say the state taxes too much actually propose specific programs that should be cut. They instead rail about wasteful spending. But they never want to do the hard work of finding the wasteful spending. That’s the legislature’s job, according to them. Which it is, but it is also their job as citizens, voters, and human beings to give the legislature guidance. The few times I see suggestions of actual cuts, they are unrealistic for various reasons. Eliminating welfare completely. Or the cuts don’t come close to adding up to what’s needed to cut spending by the amount they want.
The reality is that the state tax burden is declining. That’s the evidence from the conservative Tax Foundation. In 1994, the state had an effective tax rate of 10.4% ranking it 17th among states. In 2008, the effective rate was 8.4%, ranking us 35th. Those numbers include both state and local taxes. At the state level only, the number of employees dropped over 4% from 2008 to 2009. Over the longer term, the state hasn’t exactly grown hugely in employees. According to the U.S. Census, the state had 133,000 employees in 1997, 149,000 in 2002, and 153,000 in 2007. That’s about a 15% growth in employees over 10 years, and before recent cutbacks. Over that same time period, the state’s population grew 13.6%. State government got a little but larger than our population would indicate, but not by much. Wages and salaries for state employees over that time went from $307 million per month in 1997, to $411 million in 2002 and $504 million in 2007. That seems like a huge increase, until you adjust for inflation. That $307 million in 1997 is worth $397 million in 2007, and the $411 million from 2002 is $473 million in 2007. Inflation adjusted, that’s a 26% increase from 1997 to 2007, but only a 6% increase from 2002. Compare that to the 6.5% increase in population from 2002 to 2007. Our gross state product (a measure of the size of the economy) grew 34% from 1997 to 2007. In other words, the state government isn’t growing like metastasized cancer. It’s grown, but not in uncontrollable ways. It’s growth our current tools for managing our government already can deal with.
To sum up, philosophically I-1053 is the wrong approach. Practically, I-1053 tries solve a problem that doesn’t exist to the level it’s proponents claim it does. That’s even if you think growing spending is a problem at all. I don’t. I think the legislature is already doing a halfway decent job at overall budgeting.
Data was pulled from generally reliable sources but percentages and other calculations when not explicitly supplied were done on the back of a napkin. Go dig up the data yourself if you don’t trust my numbers.
Photo by Fibonacci Blue used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Chopp isn’t a bad representative. But he could be doing so much more. As Speaker of the House, he could have used the super-majority the Democrats held to enact some amazing things. Instead, he’s held back for fear of losing the majority. In other words, don’t overstep. Well, that makes some sense. However, we elected Democrats for a reason. If they don’t do anything, what’s the point. He’s also enthralled by the B.I.A.W., an anathema to good business and good government in the state.
Kim Verde is worse. And she won’t even use her party’s name, Republican.
Hold my nose and vote for Chopp? Or skip this race? Does it matter, given that Chopp is popular?