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‘Government-infused speech’ could kill Washington initiatives this November

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(The Center Square) – While the Washington State Legislature passed three initiatives during the recently completed session, three others will go to the voters in November. However, the fate of two of those initiatives could be decided by whether the State Attorney General’s Office concludes they are subject to a new law requiring disclosure of their fiscal impact.

In 2022, the Legislature passed House Bill 1876, which requires the AGO to provide “public investment impact disclosures” with an initiative or ballot measure that:

Repeals, levies, or modifies any tax or fee, including changing the scope or application of an existing tax or fee; andHas a fiscal impact statement that shows that adoption of the measure would cause a net change in state revenue.

While Initiative 2109 would repeal the state’s tax on the income derived from the sale of capital gains, two others do not directly concern taxes or fines. Initiative 2124 would allow residents to opt out of a long-term care insurance program that deducts a portion of their paycheck. Initiative 2117 would repeal the state’s cap and trade program that involves carbon credits purchased through auctions, rather than a direct tax or fee.

However, the AGO may ultimately decide to tack on disclosures to those initiatives. Although not a sponsor of the initiatives, long-time anti-tax activist Tim Eyman has already threatened the AGO with legal action to prevent it from doing so.

Although the law uses the word “and” to describe the requirements for a disclosure, Eyman points to a 2017 legal “interpretation” by the AGO that concluded the Interstate 405 toll lanes only had to meet one of two requirements even though the law used the word “and,” rather than “or.”

He told The Center Square that once the AGO creates the disclosures for those initiatives, it’s no longer a question of whether they will be included, but what they will say.

“This is government-infused speech being put onto the ballot that is intended to get people to vote no,” he said. “It really gives a tremendous amount of authority to the attorney general.”

While proponents of the new state law argue that it gives voters a better understanding of how ballot measures could impact funding, Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, wrote in a recent column that it “is an insidious effort to interfere with initiative campaigns in our state. The idea that any particular program is harmed by any particular tax cut is political nonsense. It’s always a matter of spending priorities.”

An October 2023 survey by Change Research obtained by The Center Square found that the initiatives would lose by significant margins if the disclosures are included. I-2117 would be rejected 49%-41%, while I-2109 would lose 56%-31%, and I-2124 43%-37%.

When The Center Square reached out to the AGO for comment, Communications Director Brionna Aho wrote that “we have not yet made any decisions about which measures are subject to a public investment impact disclosure, but we will of course do so before the statutory deadline of July 23.”