This week, I spoke with Sen. Dan Swecker about a Constitutional amendment he’s sponsoring for the regular session that would put an end to unfunded initiatives. What do Republicans and Democrats think? And how would this affect professional initiative writer, Tim Eyman? Here’s what Swecker had to say.
Q: First, tell me a little about your idea and how this came about.
Swecker: Actually, it’s kind of come from frustrations we’ve felt over the last four or five years as we’ve had to cut the budget. The biggest examples are initiatives 728 and 732 that provided for smaller class sizes and cost of living increases for teachers. The cost of those is just monumental – probably hundreds of millions of dollars every year and in an environment where you’re already having to cut programs in order to balance the budget. The idea of pouring more money into one part of one program just doesn’t seem appropriate. I also just don’t think that people have any understanding of whether or not an initiative is going to cost something or whether or not taxes would have to be raised.
This bill would do two things. First, the state would do a fiscal impact analysis then the bill has the maker of the initiative indicate what the revenue source would be that would pay for the program. There was a recent issue of Initiative 1163 to provide training for home care workers and the ranges of cost were from $40 million to $80 million. We’re in a position where we’re already cutting programs for the most vulnerable and disabled parts of our population, things like Basic Healthcare. So it seems crazy to take more money out of htose programs to pay for training. So I just decided that it’s important that people take on the same responsibility that I have as a legislator.
Q: So, because not everyone might be totally familiar with how initiatives work: Once voters pass an initiative under current law — even if it requires a lot of funding — the Legislature basically can’t change it for two years.
Swecker: Right, it takes a two-thirds majority to touch it for the first two years.
I mean, everybody loves education and loves teachers and wants smaller class sizes, so it sounds like a really good vote. But when you take a look at the fiscal implications, it could be really horrendous. (more…)