State, local measures crowd election ballot

Should voters raise taxes for schools? Should they overhaul the new primary? Should they uproot the planned Seattle monorail and shrink the size of the Metropolitan King County Council? Should they embrace charter schools and expand gambling?

These are marquee measures on the state’s general election ballot.

In all, four statewide initiatives, a statewide referendum and several local measures will share the ballot as Washington voters next month choose a president, a U.S. senator, a new governor and members of Congress.

Here are the major measures on the Nov. 2 ballot:

Initiative 872

This is the so-called top-two primary system that would replace the unpopular version in effect for last month’s primary. When the court outlawed the state’s 70-year-old blanket-primary system, the Legislature passed a top-two replacement, but that was partially vetoed by Gov. Gary Locke. He put in place a Montana-style primary, in which voters were required to select a party on the ballot and vote only for candidates in that party for partisan races. No record was kept of their party choice.

I-872, sponsored by the Washington State Grange, would change the primary to one in which voters could pick anyone on the ballot, and the top two candidates would advance to the general-election ballot. The measure is supported by Secretary of State Sam Reed.

Opponents are the state League of Women Voters and the political parties, which say this could result in two Democrats or two Republicans on the general-election ballot. They also say it could lead to court challenges.



Initiative 884

This would raise the state sales tax by a penny on the dollar to create the Washington Education Trust Fund, which would pay for smaller classes, preschool access, expanded college enrollments and salary increases in schools throughout the state.

The measure would increase the state sales tax to 7.5 percent from 6.5 percent. Half of the money would go to K-12 education, 40 percent to colleges and 10 percent to early education.

The initiative is backed by several large local companies, including Microsoft and Starbucks, as well as educators and Locke. They say the money is needed to improve education opportunities and that by creating a trust fund, it would be protected from political meddling.

Opponents, led by the League of Freedom Voters, which opposes tax increases, say a higher sales tax would hurt the sluggish economy, that the state already is overtaxed, and that the measure is a “tax ransom” for a quality education.



Initiative 892

This would allow electronic slot machines outside tribal casinos, with the money used to reduce state property taxes. Today, slots are allowed only in tribal casinos.

It would be the biggest expansion of gambling in state history.

Backers, in the nontribal gaming industry, say state property taxes have increased sixfold since 1980 and that small businesses and nonprofit agencies should have the right to compete with tribes for gambling proceeds.

Spokesman for the initiative is Tim Eyman, who has sponsored other tax-cutting measures. He said the initiative would reduce property taxes $400 million a year, although state budget analysts say that is based on highly optimistic assumptions and that the true figure is closer to $250 million.

Opponents, primarily the state’s tribes, say competition from nontribal slot machines would take away money they use for health care, schools and other tribal needs. Further, opponents say the measure was written in a way that could override local gambling rules.

Opponents also say the measure could bring Las Vegas-style gambling into neighborhoods, near schools.



Initiative 297

This would create new state regulations to clean up nuclear and other wastes at the Hanford nuclear reservation. It would add new provisions concerning mixed radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous waste — requiring cleanup of contamination before more waste is added, prioritizing cleanup and providing for public involvement and enforcement through citizen lawsuits.

Permits would not allow adding more wastes until existing contamination was cleaned up.

The initiative is sponsored by Heart of America Northwest, a Hanford watchdog organization. Proponents argue that toxic radioactive waste at Hanford is a dangerous threat and that high-level nuclear waste has leaked from 68 of Hanford’s 177 aging underground tanks. Without I-297, the U.S. Department of Energy will continue to add more radioactive waste to Hanford.

Opponents are led by the Tri-City Industrial Development Council, which works on economic issues in cities near Hanford. They say it could eliminate jobs and add to the burden of business-hostile tax and regulations in the state.


Referendum 55

This would authorize charter schools in the state and set conditions on how they could operate. The measure asks voters either to approve or reverse a law the Legislature passed to allow the first charter schools in the state.

A yes vote would maintain the law; a no vote would overturn it.

Opponents hoping to overturn the law obtained enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot.

Supporters say charter schools are public schools that are managed independently, free from the education bureaucracy. The law would give priority to schools aimed at helping children trapped in low-performing schools because their families can’t afford to live in neighborhoods with better schools.

Among supporters of charter schools are the Washington Roundtable, the Association of Washington Business and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Charter-school opponents, led by the Washington Education Association and the League of Women Voters, say voters should reject Referendum 55, telling legislators they do not want to spend public money on “expensive, risky propositions” that, in some other states, have not performed as promised.

They also argue that charter schools will drain more than $100 million from public schools in the coming years and take money from all students to benefit a few.

Initiatives providing for charter schools have been rejected by Washington voters twice in the past eight years.



King County Charter Amendment 1A and 1B

These amendments would reduce the size of the Metropolitan King County Council from 13 members to nine.

Originally circulated by the King County Corrections Guild as Initiative 18, it calls for redistricting by the end of this year and the election of nine council members in 2005. That’s on the ballot as Amendment 1A.

But the council voted to put off the change until 2007, and that’s Amendment 1B.

Supporters of 1A include Eyman, the sponsor of tax-cutting-initiatives, and County Council members David Irons, Bob Ferguson and Rob McKenna.

Supporters of 1B include the Rev. Sam McKinney, the King County Corrections Guild and council members Larry Phillips and Julia Patterson.

King County Advisory Measure 1

This asks whether voters support the development and placement on the 2005 ballot of a locally funded transportation plan to ease traffic congestion and increase safety through a mix of road and transit projects.

It includes replacing Highway 520 across Lake Washington, beginning to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and extending light rail to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Seattle’s University District.

King County Advisory Measure 2

This asks voters which tax they would prefer be used to pay for a transportation plan that would be on a later ballot. Voters will be asked to pick one from a list: general sales tax, excise tax on the value of motor vehicles, flat tax on motor vehicles, increase in the local gas tax or a tax on the total annual vehicle miles driven.

Initiative 83

Better known as “Monorail Recall,” the initiative would ban city permits for the $1.75 billion Green Line monorail connecting Ballard, Seattle Center, downtown and West Seattle.

Voters previously approved a pair of planning initiatives and in 2002 narrowly approved a measure to build the monorail with money from a new car-tab tax.

Monorail critics, who first organized as a coalition between tax protesters and those who believe the monorail tracks would cause blight in neighborhoods, contend this is the first vote on a real plan. The support columns would be wider than the 3 feet advertised in the previous campaign, and the route has been changed to run through Seattle Center. Further, the car-tab tax is bringing in far less money than forecast.

Developer Martin Selig has given more than $270,000 for campaign costs.

The measure is opposed by the Seattle Monorail Project, the Transportation Choices Coalition and the Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council.

They argue there’s no reason to abort a transit project that has kept its promise to deliver the entire 14-mile line by mid-2009. They also assert the initiative is an illegal end run around state land-use law.



Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or