Voter response to initiatives sets the stage for the 2011 legislative session
Special to the chambers of commerce
By Rep. Dan Kristiansen
When lawmakers convene in Olympia for a scheduled 105-day session that begins Jan. 10, discussion will focus on closing budget deficits exceeding $5 billion. Approaching this process, lawmakers must also navigate through a framework of messages they perceived voters sent through the initiative process in the Nov. 2 general election.
Six initiatives appeared on the ballot. The message I see from the record voter turnout of 71.18 percent is that the economy weighs heavily on Washingtonians' minds. Clearly, citizens do not want their taxes raised. They want state government to live within its means.
Let's examine each:
- Initiative 1053 – (Tax limits) Approved by 63.75%. Voters were angry when the majority party in the Legislature set aside Initiative 960 during the 2010 session so that taxes could be raised. Initiative 1053 reinstated the earlier measure, which requires a two-thirds majority of the Legislature or voter approval before taxes could be increased. Since it's unlikely that the Legislature would find enough votes (two-thirds) in this coming session for tax increases, lawmakers will need to find other ways to balance the state budget.
- Initiative 1082 – (Workers' compensation) Failed by 59.09%. Washington is only one of four states that have state-run workers' compensation – a program that pays for claims by workers injured in their place of employment. Initiative 1082 would have allowed employers to purchase private industrial insurance, just like other states. Although the measure had employers' support, opponents argued that it would profit insurance companies. Immediately after its failure, the Department of Labor and Industries, which administers the state program, announced it would hike workers' compensation premiums by 12.6 percent, beginning Jan. 1, 2011. This, on top of an expected 36 percent increase in unemployment insurance rates. Republicans will propose reforms this session to reduce these costs.
- Initiative 1098 – (Income tax) Failed by 64.15%. This measure would have placed an income tax on individuals making more than $200,000, or $400,000 for joint filers. Opponents successfully argued that Washington could lose its competitive advantage for new employers and jobs if this measure passed. In addition, voters recognized the Legislature is able to change initiatives after two years, meaning that with the constitutional protections eliminated by this measure, the thresholds could be lowered to increase taxes on the middle class.
- Initiative 1100 – Failed by 53.43%; Initiative 1105 – Failed by 65.04% (Privatizing liquor sales). Both measures would have closed state liquor stores and privatized liquor sales. Frankly, I think voters were confused about the differences between the measures, so both were rejected. Legislation is expected to be introduced in the 2011 session that would get the state out of the liquor business.
- Initiative 1107 – Approved by 60.44% (Repeal food and beverage taxes). Voters were unhappy with tax increases on soda, bottled water and certain processed food products passed by majority Democrats during the 2010 session. This measure repealed those taxes in December.
As the Legislature works to honor the voters' wishes for a balanced budget without tax increases, it will be important to hear from the business community. We will need your perspective from the front lines – your real stories about confronting the challenges our state faces and how we in the Legislature can most effectively direct Washington toward economic recovery.
Stay up to date with these issues by subscribing to my e-newsletter from my Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. And then get involved. Together, we can reset, reshape and reform state government as voters wish it to be.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.
###Washington State House Republican Communications