What is Initiative 1033 and why should I be opposed to it?
Initiative 1033 is the latest ill-conceived proposal from perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman. The initiative is designed to lock in all the budget cuts that state and municipal governments are currently making, thus potentially killing thousands of jobs in the years to come. That's no exaggeration and no joke.
Starved for revenue, our government will have no choice but to continue to lay off public servants, destroying any chance of an economic recovery and creating a ripple effect that will lead to additional job losses in the private sector. Simply put, I-1033 is a jobs killer.
How does I-1033 lock in budget cuts?
By making it illegal for our state and our communities to spend more than what we spent the year before on services like schools, parks, police, fire, or hospitals. Tim Eyman has tried to make this approach sound reasonable by including a provision that exempts inflation and population growth from the limit, but the reality is that the whole concept of contrived, artificial limits on revenue is completely unreasonable to begin with. In practice such limits have been utterly unworkable. Other states, like Colorado, have imposed them and seen their quality of life suffer drastically as a result.
We cannot let the same thing happen to Washington State.
If 1-1033 passes in November, it will be impossible to amend for two years without a two thirds vote of the Legislature. (The Constitution mandates that initiatives cannot be altered for two years after their passage without a supermajority). The cuts just made in the current budget would be irreversible during the next two legislative sessions - even if the economy does improve and more revenue flows in.
What factors besides inflation and population growth cause a natural increase in the cost of providing public services year to year?
There are too many to mention offhand, but two good examples would be new development and disease prevention/treatment.
New development occurs when someone builds or remodels something on property that was previously wild, fallow, or unused. A private developer builds a shopping center, a faith community constructs a church, or we, through our government, create a new school to serve a neighborhood. Well, all that development costs us money. Buildings have to be hooked up to the sewer system, the water supply, utility lines to provide electricity and telecommunications. Increased foot and vehicular traffic will impact nearby roads and sidewalks. The new development will need fire and police protection, and emergency medical response in case someone has a heart attack, stroke, or other ailment that requires immediate attention. If public services are not strengthened as new development occurs, quality of life gets weaker and weaker.
I-1033 does not account for the cost of new development in our state, especially commercial and industrial development.
The second example mentioned here concerns healthcare. Obviously, if someone is sick, they can't do their job very effectively, and if they are forced to work because they lack health benefits and/or access to healthcare, they can infect others around them. So just from a purely economic standpoint, the health and wellness of all Washingtonians is of paramount public concern. This is why we have Apple Health (our state's Basic Health Plan) and health coverage for children.
Preventing diseases and treating them when they infect people is vitally important to safeguard public health, but it costs money to do both. And those costs can spike at inconvenient times, especially if a pandemic breaks out or threatens to, as we have seen with the H1N1 virus (also known as swine flu).
And what happens if we discover a cure for a disease that was previously difficult or impossible to treat? That cure is no use if we've bankrupted ourselves and cannot afford to mass produce it and or administer it to the people who need it.
I-1033 does not account for the cost of disease prevention and treatment.
We need flexibility when budgeting to solve the problems and challenges that confront us. I-1033's rigidity imposes needless artificial barriers that would get in the way.
Is there anything specifically wrong with the language of I-1033's inflation and population growth provision as well?
Ignoring for a moment the reality that this initiative is fundamentally a bad idea which cannot be fixed or improved (except to make it more nefarious), yes. The provision limits revenue growth to the national rate of inflation rather than a state rate. From Section 2 of the initiative text:
(3) For the purposes of this section, "inflation" means the annual percentage change in the implicit price deflator for the United States as published on or about March 27 following each calendar year by the bureau of economic analysis and reported by the office of financial management.
The problem with this is that the United States is a big country. The national "annual percentage change" is unlikely to be the same as Washington State's. Determining statewide public policy based on national economic conditions is not a sound approach. This kind of thoughtlessness is rather predictable in Eyman initiatives, which have a history of being rudely and crudely crafted.
What about voter approved revenue increases?
1-1033 allows voter approved revenue increases to take effect, but that does not even begin to solve the problem that the initiative itself creates.
For our elected leaders to be able to continue providing services at the current level they'd have to constantly ask voters for more revenue, which ironically would cost money to do, because there are costs associated with holding elections.
More dangerously, voter fatigue would set in. This is no doubt intentional; snake oil salesman Tim Eyman and his partners in self-absorption would love for Washingtonians to become more suspicious and mistrustful of their own government, and even disillusioned with the very idea of representative democracy.
Don't we need to do something to fix our state's broken tax system?
We do, but this initiative is exact opposite of real reform. Instead of fixing what's broken, it would make all of our lives worse. Much worse. We need real tax reform that improves stability and fairness in our tax system. Today, too many Washingtonians are being asked to pay more than their fair share. Family farmers, homeowners, and regular folks are patriotically paying their taxes while rich corporations and wealthy Washingtonians, through their lobbyists, push for more exemptions and loopholes for themselves. Tim Eyman's initiatives have never done anything to address this situation and they never will. Look at who funds Tim Eyman: a wealthy, bitter, and deeply conservative investment banker named Michael Dunmire.