Ballot title for education-funding tax measure is clarified

It isn’t wrong, but the ballot title for Initiative 884 is open to various interpretations, the state’s top election official has announced.

Citing evidence of public confusion, Secretary of State Sam Reed last week took the unusual step of issuing a clarification on the education-funding measure to Washington news media.

If it passes, I-884 will raise the statewide sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent, generating $1 billion a year for public education programs, ranging from preschools to colleges and universities.

The ballot language that voters will see Tuesday describes the sales tax bump as an increase of 1 percent.

But critics of the initiative have been challenging that language since it was published, saying the new tax is actually a 15 percent increase.

The Secretary of State Office’s phone lines have seen heavy traffic from voters confused by the language, according to Reed.

“We just wanted to make sure that people are clear on this,” he said.

In an advisory issued to news media, Reed said there are three ways to look at I-884’s proposed tax bite — and none are wrong:

# The statewide sales tax would indeed increase from 6.5 percent on every dollar spent to 7.5 percent.

# Viewed another way, the sales tax rate would increase by “1 percent,” as the ballot language states, meaning one full percentage point.

# The amount of state sales tax paid would increase by 15 percent. That’s because the one-cent difference per dollar spent amounts to a 15 percent increase in the amount of tax paid.

The dispute over the wording stems from the language written by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy last spring when opponents challenged the way the state first worded the initiative. (Editor’s Note: The judge was misidentified in the original version of this story.)

Pomeroy wrote that I-884 would be “funded by increasing retail sales tax by 1 percent.”

“It is wrong,” said Jamie Daniels, a campaign organizer for the League of Freedom Voters, the group officially opposing I-884. “We have serious concerns that it could influence the vote if people think that it is just a 1 percent increase.”

Jeff Even, the assistant state attorney general who helped the state write the initiative on the ballot, said he also objected to the judge’s wording. He had offered that I-884 would be “funded by a new 1 percent retail sales tax.”

Even said the judge’s wording isn’t wrong — just open to more than one interpretation.

All sides agree that further legal challenges to the initiative’s ballot language were highly unlikely given the fact that they had all agreed to live with the judge’s wording.

“There is a legal process that was followed. A judge made a ruling and she’s gong to stand by that,” said Natalie Reber, spokeswoman for the initiative effort.
P-I reporter Jake Ellison can be reached at 206-448-8346 or