No on Initiative 1053: Only special interests will gain from its passage

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How’s this for a story line for the 2010 election? Washington families and small businesses, struggling in the face of tough economic times, mobilize to rein in government spending. Sensing the popular support, Tim Eyman offers Initiative 1053, an initiative mandating a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature to raise taxes. What better way to fend off special interests and get big government off the backs of the little guy?

This would be a stirring political tale if it were true. But it’s not. For while times are tough, I-1053 is just the latest ill-considered and undemocratic initiative from Eyman that promotes corporate special interests at the expense of essential citizen services like schools, roads, medical care and clean water.

Ballot title: Initiative 1053

Initiative Measure No. 1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. This 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.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes ( ) No ( )

For more information about Initiative 1053, including official impact, explanatory statement and statements for and against, visit http://www.vote.w... then click on”2010 General Election Voters’ Guide,” then click on “State Measures.”

If I-1053 really were a grass-roots movement to protect citizen’s pocketbooks, you would have seen an army of volunteers working to put the initiative on the ballot and a flood of small individual contributions to ensure that it succeeds in November. Instead, Eyman’s organization paid $299,500 to an outfit called Citizen Solutions (which offers “petition management serving all of your initiative and referendum needs”) to field squadrons of paid signature gatherers.

And Eyman’s funding depends on the largesse of self-interested corporations. The I-1053 campaign is bankrolled by BP and Tesoro, which have kicked in $65,000 each. ConocoPhillips and Shell have each ponied up $50,000. Donations from banks including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and US Bank total $40,000.

All told, 75 percent of the nearly $800,000 collected by Eyman’s campaign comes from deep-pocketed corporations, mostly with out-of-state addresses.

Why are so many corporations based outside Washington — oil companies in particular — so interested in how this state conducts its business? Here’s one reason: Last year, the Legislature nearly increased the Hazardous Substances Tax that was approved by state voters in 1988. It would have dinged oil companies that operate refineries in Washington to pay for oil spill prevention and the cleanup of oil-polluted stormwater. Those companies include — surprise! — BP, Tesoro, ConocoPhillips, and Shell.

If voters approve I-1053, its two-thirds requirement will make it all too easy for corporations to block future attempts by elected officials to ensure that businesses clean up after themselves.

The fact that I-1053 isn’t the populist measure it purports to be isn’t the only reason to reject it. As California clearly demonstrates, letting one-third of state legislators dictate fiscal matters is a recipe for disaster. Today, that state is collapsing under the weight of a failing education system, crumbling infrastructure, crushing debt, and gridlocked government.

Here in Washington, I-1053 would enable a group of just 17 state senators who share Eyman’s distinct far-right ideology — or favor special interests like big oil — to veto common-sense efforts to tackle the tough challenges our state faces, including how to educate our children, maintain our essential infrastructure, create jobs, and protect our environment.

These are critical issues in Clark County. Last year, 40 teaching positions were eliminated in Vancouver schools and more than 2,000 county residents lost coverage under the state’s Basic Health plan. This year’s state budget projections make clear that more hard choices lie ahead.

At a time when Clark County’s fast-growing population and disproportionate number of unemployed workers need access to strong schools, decent medical care, and good job opportunities, does it make sense to give 17 senators the power to say “no” to anything that doesn’t fit with their rigid ideology?

More than 200 years ago, this nation was founded on the most fundamental of democratic principles: majority rule. Like the U.S. Constitution, the Washington Constitution created a system of representative government where a simple majority of elected leaders pass the laws under which we live. If Eyman is successful, I-1053 would turn this principle on its head and make our state nearly impossible to govern.

Only the oil companies would win.

Todd Campbell is a Seattle-based speech writer and community volunteer. Alan Durning directs Sightline Institute (http://sightline.org), a policy research center in Seattle.