5 Washington state ballot measures could end up in court

  • Sat Jul 17th, 2010 10:31pm
  • News

By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer

For sponsors of ballot measures, the price of success this fall will be a good lawyer.

Because of conflicting, contradicting or constitutionally questionable language, at least five measures may wind up in court rather than in law, should voters pass them.

There are two initiatives, 1100 and 1105, which require that the state close its liquor stores and get out of the spirits business. They differ in how fast to force the closures and the structure left behind when the state no longer controls the distribution of hard liquor.

What happens if both pass?

It’s reasonable to think that whichever one gets more votes is the one whose rules we follow.

Think again. It’s not the law in Washington. But there is apparently an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General supporting such a course of action.

The flow of profits is different under each initiative, making it unlikely either side benevolently bows out when the ballot counting ends.

A bit more complicated scenario would unfold if voters approve Referendum 52, which is a $500 million bond measure for renovating public schools, and Initiative 1107, which repeals new taxes on bottled water, candy, gum, soda and some processed foods.

Legislators put the bond measure on the ballot. In the heat of debate, amid concerns the cash-depleted general fund could not cover the costs, lawmakers agreed to use bottled water tax revenues to pay off the bonds.

What happens if the voters wipe out the bottled water tax and then approve the bond?

“We don’t know precisely,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who wrote the original bill and is the spokesman for the campaign to pass the referendum.

Erasing the tax shouldn’t cancel out the bonds, in his view. The bonds are backed by the “full faith and credit of the state,” he said. That should mean any dollars in the general fund can pay them off, whether they are from a tax on bottled water or some other source.

The most obvious court drama will unfold if voters pass Initiative 1098 to impose an income tax on individuals earning $200,000 and couples making at least $400,000. It also cuts state property taxes and increases the business-and-occupation tax credit, but those aren’t the controversial pieces.

Voters approved an income tax in 1932 but a year later the state Supreme Court tossed it out on a 5-4 decision. While other personal and corporate income taxes have gone before voters, none have passed, leaving that decision in force.

Backers think I-1098 is scribed in a way to pass muster with the high court justices. They hope voters give them a chance to test it out.

And while there’s no looming threat, it’d be no surprise if a legal fight broke out on Initiative 1082, which would let private insurers into the world of workers compensation. Two of the state’s political juggernauts – Building Industry Association of Washington and the Washington State Labor Council – are facing off, and neither likes to lose.

All these ballot measures pose difficult questions to voters, so difficult it certainly will take lawyers to answer some of them.

That means what happens in November will get stayed in November.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.