West Coast Ballot Measures Summary

Rachel Alexander

Whitman students come from all over the country, but it’s no secret that most of us are concentrated on the West Coast. Even if you’re from a completely different state, the  initiatives and referendums on Washington’s ballot this year will have significant impacts for all Washington residents (Washingtonians are voting on both gay marriage and marijuana legalization). Whether you’re not sure what to vote for or are simply curious about what’s on the ballot, we’re here to help. Read on for The Pioneer‘s guide to 2012 ballot measures in Washington, Oregon and California.

 

Washington State Ballot Measures

I-1185

This initiative would require a two-thirds majority of the Washington State Legislature or voter approval to raise taxes of any kind (including repealing tax exemptions). The initiative is the product of Tim Eyeman, a political activist who’s written over a dozen initiatives over the past few years. In 2010, Washington voters passed essentially the same initiative, but it was later declared unconstitutional.

Supporters argue that this measure will increase fiscal responsibility and help lower taxes, especially since Democrats often hold enough seats in the State Legislature to get a simple majority without any Republican votes. Opponents claim that the 2010 version of the measure contributed significantly to Washington’s budgetary problems, and that this measure would cripple the state’s ability to balance the budget in tough economic times.

I-1240

This initiative would allow the state to establish 40 charter schools over the next five years. Charter schools receive public funding but are exempt from many of the rules governing public schools. In exchange for this exemption, they are given a charter which holds them to a standard of academic performance, often measured by standardized test results. Enrollment is based on choice, and a lottery system is established in cases where too many students want to attend a particular school.Washington is one of only eight states in the nation without charter schools.

Supporters of the measure argue that it will give parents more choice in their children’s schooling and won’t cost the state any extra money, since they receive funding based on enrollment just like other public schools. Opponents argue that struggling students have no guarantee of access to charter schools, and that charter schools will detract from efforts to increase public schools funding to benefit all students.

The measure is supported by the League of Education Voters and Democrats for Education Reform. It is opposed by the Seattle School Board, the Walla Walla School Board and Randy Dorn, the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

R-74

This referendum legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State. A measure to legalize same-sex marriage was approved by the legislature in the spring of 2012, and opponents gathered enough signatures to order it referred to voters on this fall’s ballot. The measure includes a provision stating that no church will be required to perform same-sex marriages in violation of their religious beliefs. Currently, same-sex couples can register as domestic partners in Washington State, where they receive the same legal benefits as married couples within Washington State.

I-502

This initiative would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people over age 21, while providing a licensing system for growers and retailers. It would also establish testing guidelines to determine if someone is too intoxicated to drive, as well as requirements limiting the presence of marijuana retailers near schools and other places where children are present. The state estimates that the measure would generate up to $1.6 billion dollars in revenue over five fiscal years in licensing fees and taxes.

Supporters of the measure claim that legalizing marijuana will decrease law enforcement arrests for drug possession and curb black market crime which occurs because of the illegal drug trade. They also argue that revenue generated will help the state significantly. Opponents are divided into two camps––those who support legalization but not under these provisions, and those who oppose legalization entirely. The first group claims that driving limits are arbitrary and will lead to arrests of non-impaired drivers, and that the measure retains marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under state law, which means conduct not provided for in the initiative (like home-growing) will remain as illegal as before. The second camp claims that increased availability of marijuana will lead to more use and abuse.

People on both sides of the debate have noted that this initiative may lead to a federal challenge, since its provisions conflict directly with federal drug law. Some supporters see this as a benefit, as they believe that challenges to federal drug law are needed. Opponents say that this conflict will invalidate the initiative, since a federal court is unlikely to rule in favor of allowing Washington to tax marijuana-related activity.

Senate Joint Resolution 8221

This is a constitutional amendment which reduced Washington’s debt limit from 9 percent to 8 percent, averaged over six years. The constitution provides for the state to borrow money to finance capital and infrastructure projects, such as investment in school buildings, and water and sewer projects.

Supporters argue that making this change will allow Washington to keep its high credit rating. Because they limit is averaged over six year, they claim that it will allow the state to borrow more during economic downturns and make up the difference in good years. Opponents claim that this measure will limit the state’s ability to invest in infrastructure, which will hurt jobs and force local government to pick up the slack.

Senate Joint Resolution 8223

This constitutional amendment would allow the University of Washington and Washington State University to invest public funds in private stocks and bonds. The schools would be able to invest money that they designate as “not needed for immediate expenditure.”Supporters claim it will help maximize funding for higher education. Opponents claim that the amendment doesn’t provide sufficient limits on what may be classified as not needed, and that it allows the universities to gamble with funding.

 

Oregon State Ballot Measures

Measure 77

This measure would amend the Oregon Constitution, granting the governor the constitutional authority to declare a “catastrophic disaster” after an event such as an act of terrorism, natural disaster or war. Such a declaration would grant the governor and the legislature new temporary powers in order to respond to the crisis. Presently, the governor has been granted similar authority through law, but this amendment would codify this and allow for certain extra-constitutional actions during the disaster period in order to expedite the response and recovery process.

Measure 78

This measure would amend the Oregon Constitution, making minor, non-functional changes in wording. The constitution at present refers to the legislative, executive, and judicial “departments;” this amendment would change that to “branches” to reflect modern (and national) conventions. It would also modernize spelling of certain words and replace gendered references to the Secretary of State as “he” and “him” with gender-neutral wording.

Measure 79

This measure would amend the Oregon Constitution to prohibit governments from imposing new real estate transfer taxes. At present, although local governments are prohibited from imposing new real estate transfer taxes, the Legislature may with a three-fifths vote, and may also vote to remove the prohibition on local governments. This measure would eliminate that authority. Proponents of the measure claim that eliminating real estate transfer taxes would encourage home ownership and support the housing sector; opponents claim it is an unnecessary abridgment of freedoms to amend the constitution to prohibit something already prohibited by law.

Measure 80

This measure would allow the commercial sale of marijuana to adults through state-licensed stores, would allow personal cultivation and use of marijuana and would prohibit restrictions on the use of hemp. Marijuana usage would in many ways be treated like alcohol––consumption in public would be banned, and minors would be barred from purchase or use. Proponents claim replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation will lower crime, create jobs, and lessen the impact of law enforcement on otherwise law-abiding citizens’ lives; opponents claim the measure is a violation of federal law, will have significant negative social impact, and will increase the size of government.

Measure 81

This measure prohibits non-tribal commercial fishing with gillnets in Oregon’s inland waters, and allows the use of seine nets instead. Gillnets are nets which are strung across an area of water where fish travel. They are large enough for fish to get their heads stuck inside, but catch on fish gills when they attempt to back out of the net. Supporters argue that gillnets catch and kill too many fish, including the 13 endangered species of salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River. Opponents argue that this measure does not provide measures to mitigate lost income for commercial fishers, and that it was not developed in collaboration with those who would be most impacted.

Measure 82

This measure amends the Oregon Constitution to establish privately-owned casinos and mandates that these casinos pay 25 percent of their monthly gross revenue into a state fund for job growth and educational achievement. Current Oregon law prohibits the establishment of non-tribal casinos in Oregon. This measure would restrict private casinos from operating within 60 miles of an established tribal casino on reservation land.

Supporters claim that this measure will increase state revenues and funding for education without negative impacts to tribal casinos. Opponents argue that the casinos will damage tribal revenues, hurting tribal self-sufficiency without clear benefits. They also claim that additional casinos may further problems with gambling addiction.

Measure 83

This measure authorizes a single private casino to operate in Wood Village, Multnomah County with 25 percent of the casino’s adjusted gross revenues to be paid to the State Lottery. Arguments for and against are similar to those for Measure 82. Some supporters of Measure 93 have also cited a specific need for jobs in Multnomah County.

Measure 84

This measure would phase out inheritance taxes and taxes on intra-family property transfers over a three-year period. Currently, Oregon charges a one-time tax on estates assessed at over $1 million in value at the time of death. All such taxes would be eliminated for people dying on or after January 1, 2016, costing the state approximately $120 million per year after 2016.

Supporters of the measure claim that estate taxes hurt family businesses, especially farms, where farmers often have little income but own land worth a significant amount of money. They argue that estate taxes force farmers and ranchers to sell land to pay the tax, preventing land from being passed down generation to generation. Opponents argue that farms worth under $7.5 million are already exempt from the estate tax, and that eliminating the tax altogether will hurt state revenues while giving millionaires a tax break.

Measure 85

This measure amends the Oregon Constitution to change where tax refunds are applied. Under current Oregon law, the Governor prepares an estimate of how much tax will be collected in each biennium. Any corporate income and excise taxes collected which exceed this estimate by two percent or more are returned to taxpayers in the form of a “kicker” refund. This measure would instead allocate this “kicker” refund to the General Fund, where it would be used to fund K-12 public education. The measure would not affect personal tax refunds.

Supporters claim that corporate tax refunds are bad public policy, and that the measure would keep money within Oregon while providing more funding for education. Opponents claim that “kicker” payments are too infrequent to be a reliable source of state income, and that this measure might preclude a more serious discussion about sustainably funding K-12 public education.

California Ballot Measures

For more information, the California voter’s guide can be viewed here.

Proposition 30

This measure would increase income taxes on residents earning more than $250,000 annually for the next four years and increase the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent for the next four years. All funds raised this way in 2012-2013 will be directed to education spending by way of the general fund, and a planned cut to education funding in 2012-13 would not occur. This measure must pass with a two-thirds majority.

Supporters of the measure claim that it asks the very wealthiest to chip in more to prevent substantial cuts to education. Opponents argue that the money isn’t permanently earmarked for education funding and that there would be little transparency in the use of additional revenues.

Proposition 31

This measure would require a biennial budget and authorize the Governor to cut the budget during declared fiscal emergencies if the Legislature fails to do so. It would also prohibit new expenditures over $25 million without identifying offsetting revenues or cuts elsewhere. Supporters claim the measure provides much-needed fiscal reform and adds transparency to the budgeting process. Opponents say the measure it poorly worded and would divert revenue from the state to pay for county programs, resulting in more serious funding problems.

Proposition 32

This measure prohibits unions and corporations from using money deducted from employee paychecks for political purposes. It would also prohibit union and corporate contributions to political campaigns. Supporters claim it would provide campaign reform and curb the influence of special interests in California politics. Opponents argue that it allows exemptions for non-corporate entities, including LLCs, real estate trusts and Super PACs. They claim that the net effect of the measure would be to silence local voices and unions without providing significant campaign reform.

Proposition 33

This measure would allow automotive insurance companies to adjust premiums based on whether or not a driver had insurance for the last five years, which is currently prohibited because of provisions in 1988’s Proposition 103. Proponents argue that the measure would provide responsible drivers with a cost savings. Opponents of Prop. 33 say that it is just another attempt by Mercury Insurance to erode key provisions of California’s insurance reform, and would not provide any benefits to California drivers.

Proposition 34

This measure abolishes the death penalty in California and retroactively commutes all death sentences to life without the possibility of parole. It also directs $100 million to local law enforcement for rape and homicide investigations.

Supporters claim that the measure will save $1 billion over five years, citing a study by a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They also argue that this measure will prevent the execution of innocent people. Opponents argue that eliminating the death penalty lets criminals off easily and dispute the claim of savings, arguing that the Department of Corrections has predicted cost increases.

Proposition 35

This measure would increase punishment for people convicted of human trafficking offenses and expands the definition of human trafficking to include reproduction and distribution of obscene images involving minors. People convicted of human trafficking offenses would be required to register as sex offenders. It also provides that 70 percent of fines from the increased penalties be used to benefit victims of human trafficking.

Proponents claim that the measure provides law enforcement with necessary tools to crack down on human trafficking. Opponents claim the provisions are broad enough to prosecute parents, landlords and roommates of prostitutes as pimps, and that the measure expands law enforcement powers too much with little accountability.

Proposition 36

This measure would change California’s “three strikes” law. Under current law, a person convicted of three felonies is automatically sentenced to life in prison. This measure would change the law to not apply in cases where the third offense is a nonviolent, non-serious felony.

Supporters claim that the measure would leave the spirit of the three-strikes law in place, while saving California money and reducing prison overcrowding. Opponents claim the measure will allow dangerous criminals to walk free with little or no supervision.

Proposition 37

This measure would require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such, and prohibits labeling these products as “natural.” Supporters claim the measure provides transparency and is in line with many other countries which require genetically modified organisms to be labeled. Opponents argue that there is no scientific proof of any negative health impacts from genetically modified crops. They claim this measure has too many loopholes to be useful and will create unnecessary bureaucracy which costs taxpayers money.

Proposition 38

This measure would increase the marginal income tax rate on a sliding scale, and divert tax revenues raised to local schools, as well as servicing California’s debt. This measure must pass with a two-thirds majority.

Proponents argue that the measure will provide schools with needed funds, while preventing politicians in Sacramento from touching the money. Opponents say that the tax increase is too high, and the resulting funding does not come with any protections against fraud, or any requirements of increased student performance from local schools who receive funding.

Proposition 39

This measure would require multistate corporations to pay taxes based on their sales in California. Currently, multistate corporations can choose to pay taxes based on sales in California, number of employees in California or amount of property owned in California. Usually, corporations choose whatever metric will cost them the least amount of money.

Supporters say that the measure will close a loophole in the way the state handles corporate taxes and will increase revenue. Opponents argue that Prop. 39 will drive businesses out of the state because of the potential increase to their tax burden.

A note on Propositions 30 and 38: In the event that both Proposition 30 and 38 pass, the provisions of the initiative receiving more “Yes” votes will prevail in their entirety. If Prop. 38 is more successful than Prop. 30 (i.e. it receives more votes, and passes with a 2/3 majority), “trigger cuts” in the current budget will go into effect and remove about 6 billion dollars in funding from state agencies. Most of those cuts will hit education, but other agencies and programs affected include the Department of Developmental Services, CalFire, Local police department grants and the Department of Fish and Game. For more details, see the Legislative Analyst’s report on Prop. 30 here.

Spencer Wharton and Blair Hanley Frank contributed additional research and reporting.