On June 11, 2010, Bill Gates, Sr. said on YesOn1098.com that voters’ passage of I-1098 would provide “a stable, dedicated funding source for education and health care.” Initiative opponents claim that “the legislature can spend the funds however it wants.” The opposition claim is partially true.
On February 25, 2010, Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office confirmed that the Washington legislature can amend initiatives because voters gave the legislature that power in 1952 when they amended the constitution (emphasis per original):
[I]nitiatives have been repealed or suspended ever since the process was created nearly 100 years ago. The first successful initiative, Prohibition, was later repealed. A review by the state Elections Division showed that since 1952, when voters amended the constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to amend voter-approved initiatives, at least 30 have been changed or suspended.
Before the constitutional amendment of 1952, lawmakers couldn’t touch a voter-approved initiative for the first two years after the vote, but then could change or repeal by a simple majority. The change, adopted by a large majority, said initiatives can be changed, repealed or suspended by a two-thirds vote of both houses during the first two years after passage, and simple majority after that.
Thus, with a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature, it is possible that the funds raised by I-1098 could be diverted to other programs during the first biennium. Moreover, mustering a two-thirds vote is a procedural challenge, one that is favored by supporters of I-1053 as a way to curb taxes. However, two years later, with a simple majority vote, the Legislature can modify the initiative, per the state constitution.
Points to consider:
- Article IX, Section 1 of the State Constitution declares it is “the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders . . . .” Today the largest category of state budget expenditures is human services “such as mental health and other institutions, public assistance, health care, and correctional facilities.” However, the largest general fund expenditure is for K-12 education.
- The potential wrath of the I-1098 organizers: in a full-page ad in the Sunday Seattle Times (October 24), supporters pledged “to make sure that our elected officials in Olympia follow the strict accountability and transparency requirements that are built into the measure, and we will monitor the use of funds raised by I-1098 and go down to Olympia as needed to ensure it is being implemented as written.”
- There is no guarantee that the additional monies raised by I-1098 would supplement the current $6.6 billion annual budget for K-12 education.