Legislation via initiative is complicated, so proponents and opponents try to simplify their messages to gain supporters. We’ve already shown how opponents of I-1098 have stretched the truth. Now we find that proponents of I-1098 are doing something similar.
In a 30-second commercial, the Vote Yes on 1098 committee claims that the initiative “cannot be changed without a vote of the people.” This claim is false.
The legislature can change initiatives
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[I]nitiatives have been repealed or suspended ever since the process was created nearly 100 years ago. The first successful initiative, Prohibition, was later repealed.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 The change, adopted by a large majority, said initiatives can be changed, repealed or suspended by a two-thirds vote of both houses during the first two years after passage, and simple majority after that.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, the legislature could amend the initiative during its first biennium. However, mustering a two-thirds vote is a procedural challenge, one that is favored by supporters of I-1053 as a way to curb taxes. That said, two years later, with a simple majority vote, the Legislature could modify the initiative, per the state constitution.
To counter that reality, Initiative 1098 supporters, who include William H. Gates Sr. and Nicolas “Nick” Hanauer, a partner at venture-capital firm Second Avenue Partners, pledged in a full-page ad in the Seattle Times that if “the Legislature attempts to broaden the income tax without a public vote, we will write, file and collect signatures for a ballot measure to ensure that the people have the final say on any change.”