Sales tax, primary likely on ballot

JOSEPH TURNER; The News Tribune


Washington State - Voters won't get a chance in November to ban indoor smoking or cut their local property taxes.

But they'll most likely be asked if they want to expand gambling to cut their state property taxes, raise the state sales tax to fund education, go with a new primary election system, and authorize the creation of public charter schools.

Friday was the deadline for backers of initiatives to turn in signature petitions to win a spot on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Tim Eyman failed to get enough signatures on his proposal to cut local property taxes by $425 million a year, but supporters of public schools appear to have more than enough to force a vote to raise taxes by $1 billion.

Eyman came at least 40,000 signatures shy of the 197,734 needed to get I-864 onto the November general election ballot. The initiative would have cut local property tax levies by 25 percent.

Citizens for the Education Trust made the deadline. They turned in about 327,000 signatures on I-884, a measure that would boost the state portion of the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent to help raise $1 billion a year for public schools and colleges. Consumers would spend an extra penny on the dollar under the initiative.

But supporters of three other measures - to ban smoking in public places, to allow smoking at some businesses and to let employers offer bare-bones health plans - announced they couldn't reach the signature threshold.

Even though he fell short, Eyman still brought bundles of I-864 petitions to the Secretary of State's Office in Olympia to show reporters and his supporters what their effort produced. Eyman said the campaign collected 156,160 signatures, which he later took back so he could save the e-mail addresses and other information for a "sequel" he's planning for next year.

He blamed the shortfall on lack of money to pay signature gatherers.

"We kept going until we ran out of money," Eyman said. He admitted the paid signature drive ended a month ago when the I-864 campaign exhausted $260,000 in donations.

I-864 opponents took some credit for its failure.

Public employee unions mounted an aggressive counterattack to Eyman's paid signature gatherers. Union members sought out Eyman's people and stood next to them with signs that said I-864 would hurt parks, libraries and other public services, said Pat Thompson, deputy director of the 16,000-member Washington State Council of County and City Employees.

He said Eyman's signature gatherers, who had several different petitions, would sometimes get rid of the I-864 petitions so the union worker would go away.

"When our volunteers were out there standing next to them, they realized very quickly they weren't going to make money on the other initiatives," he said. "So, they would abandon their efforts on 864 and concentrate on the ones that would make them money."

Eyman appears to have been more successful with his second ballot proposal. He delivered a second batch of signatures on I-892 petitions Friday afternoon, boosting the total to 275,641. Bankrolled by the non-Indian gambling interests, I-892 would allow minicasinos, taverns, bars and bowling alleys to install 18,900 slotlike machines, the same number authorized for tribal casinos.

The Washington State Grange also added to its signature total Friday. Its members turned in 75,000 more signatures, boosting their total to about 305,000. That would seem to assure the Grange gets I-872, its "Top Two" primary election proposal, on the November ballot.

It would establish a primary system similar to the blanket primary that was in effect for nearly 70 years before a federal court ruled it unconstitutional last year. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling earlier this year by refusing to hear an appeal.

The system implemented earlier this year by Gov. Gary Locke and the Legislature for the Sept. 14 primary will restrict voters to one party's slate of candidates for partisan races.

Kevin Phelps, co-chairman of Breathe Easy Washington and chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, said the I-890 smoking ban campaign just ran out of time.

"We waited for the Legislature to fulfill their mandate this year to pass clean indoor air legislation," he said. "They failed to act, letting Big Tobacco and the gambling industry call the shots, and we lost valuable months needed to collect signatures. Stay tuned, we're not giving up."

Earlier this week, one of the campaign's principals filed another smoking ban proposal, as an initiative to the Legislature.

Linda Matson, executive director of the Entertainment Industry Coalition, said her members didn't need to get their own measure onto the ballot. They succeeded when the I-890 campaign ran out of gas, she said.

The coalition's proposal, I-891, would have restated the existing state law by allowing smoking at some establishments and gone further by prohibiting local government from imposing smoking bans, as the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has done.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said it will take about a month to verify signatures on the initiatives. Election workers don't verify every signature unless they have to, he said. Rather, they take a sample of several thousand and determine what the error rate of invalid signatures.

Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436

SIDEBAR: Five headed your way

I-297: Ban out-of-state shipments of nuclear waste to Hanford

I-872: Install "Top Two" primary election system

I-884: Would boost sales tax by a penny on the dollar to increase education funding

I-892: Cut property taxes, expand gambling

R-55: Authorize the creation of public charter schools



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