- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Nearly 40 senators are supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent budget-busting ballot initiatives from being filed unless supporters also include a way to pay for it.

Sen. Joe Fain, a Republican from Auburn, says that under the proposed measure he introduced Tuesday, supporters of initiatives that would eliminate specific taxes also wouldn’t be allowed to collect signatures if the measure doesn’t specify which state programs would be removed or cut.

Senate Joint Resolution 8201, which has a long list of bipartisan co-sponsors, would apply to all initiatives whose costs were determined to fall outside of the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement.

The measure directs the secretary of state, under advice of the attorney general, to determine whether proposed initiatives exceed that budget requirement.

Fain said that the passage of Initiative 1351 in November - a measure that would decrease class sizes and is projected to cost about $2 billion through the middle of 2017 - was a catalyst for many lawmakers.

“The citizen initiative process in this state is sacred,” he said. “But 1351 provided a very high-profile example that it’s not working the way it’s intended to. This is a fix that will help the initiative process work better.”

To pass a constitutional amendment, the Legislature must approve the measure by a two-thirds majority and then it goes to the people for a simple majority vote.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman called the measure “another childish temper tantrum by politicians over the citizen initiative process.”

“This bill would forever sabotage the people’s right to propose initiatives that limit taxes,” he said in an email. “There are a lot of politicians from both parties who hate the initiative process and want to shut it down. This is just the latest example.”

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is one of the more than three dozen co-sponsors, said that voters need to be faced with the same choices that lawmakers are when contemplating whether to create programs or eliminate taxes.

“From my perspective, the proposed constitutional amendment is really a way of respecting voters by giving them honest information and honest choices about the cost of their choices through the initiative process,” he said.

Under Washington law, voter-approved initiatives cannot be amended or suspended within two years after passage unless lawmakers approve it by a two-thirds vote in both chambers. After that, they just need a simple majority vote for such changes.

Pedersen and Fain both noted that lawmakers haven’t hesitated to take such action on initiatives - like teacher raises, and previous class size initiatives - during tough budget years.

“Right now, there isn’t any guarantee that their choice is going to be respected,” Pedersen said. “If we had a funded initiative to do something like lower class sizes, I have virtual certainty that the Legislature would not upset that and that would move it to the front of the line of our budget.”

Rep. Ross Hunter, a Democrat from Medina who is the chief budget writer in the House, said that he’s willing to look at the measure if it makes its way to the House, but he said he has several reservations.

“I’m generally not in favor of amending the Constitution to limit the rights of the people,” he said.

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