This year’s election could be one of the most historical in Washington State History. From our states tax structure to our public education system to the de-prohibition of marijuana, voters will make history with the lines they draw on this year’s ballot.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Associated Students Representation and Engagement Programs hosted Weed, Taxes and Democracy, an event to discuss the three initiatives on this year’s ballot: I-1240, I-1185 and I-502 in Artzen Hall 100. Each initiative was presented and then debated on by a representative from both the pro and con side.
“This measure would authorize up to forty publicly-funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious, nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools”
Washington is one of the few states in the nation without a charter school system. These proposed schools would be established by charter and governed by a charter school board. The initiative proposes the establishment of no more than eight charter schools a year in Washington and would limit the number of charter schools allowed to 40 in five years.
Washington State Director for Democrats for Education Reform Lisa McFarlane presented the pro I-1240 stance at the event. She said that the biggest reason to establish charter schools would be to provide a better alternative for low income and at-risk students as opposed to the current public education system.
500 charter schools were established last year in the United States. McFarlane said this is because they work as educational institutions. She said that the charter school system allows for more flexibility in establishing curriculums, hiring and firing staff and determining the length of the school day and year.
“We are losing kids to the streets, we are losing them to the penal system, and we are losing them to the ground,” McFarlane said. “I think it’s time to provide more options for struggling kids.
Bill Lyne, councilmember of the Whatcom County Democrats, opposes I-1240. His main argument is that I-1240 implies that poorer teachers and schools have failed struggling students when, in reality, more elements of society are to blame. Lyne also said that the charter school system will drain money from the already strained public education budget and that a greater investment in public education as opposed to the expensive establishment of a charter school system would benefit at-risk and low income children better. He stated that Washington is 50th in the nation in the way we fund our public education and that establishing charter schools will not help alleviate that.
“This measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval”
Initiative 1185 is an attempt to restate the current laws regarding the legislative process of raising taxes that was set forth 20 years ago requiring that a supermajority (two-thirds vote) be present in both the senate and house of legislators in order to raise taxes. For 20 years, a supermajority vote by the Legislature has been required in order to raise taxes.
Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen presented in support of I-1185. He said that a vote in favor of I-1185 was a vote in favor of the sustainable creation of jobs in Washington. He said that making it easier to raise taxes, although it could increase state revenues, would also lead to high layoffs and higher unemployment in the state.
Patrick Stickney of the Northwest Progressive Institute opposes I-1185. While Stickney is also the AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs, his opinions on I-1185 presented at Weed, Taxes and Democracy were not tied in any way to his position within the AS nor does it represent the opinion of the AS as a whole.
Stickney said that by lowering the requirements to raise taxes, the legislature could do a better job at raising revenue for the state. He said that if I-1185 passes, it will directly affect students.
“The $1.4 billion that has been cut from higher education since 2009 has been because the legislature has not been able to raise revenue,” Stickney said. “Because of that, we’re seeing those effects.”
Stickney said the state has a dated, inefficient tax structure that is struggling to fit with our changing economy. He also said that the sponsors of this initiative represent the interests of large corporations and industries like Big Oil, and that these corporations simply want to avoid being taxed at a higher rate.
Ericksen rebutted this comment, saying that oil companies in Washington are already taxed per barrel of oil three times more than in California.
“We tax very well, but we don’t prioritize very well,” Ericksen said.
Legalization of Marijuana
“This measure would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over 21; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.”
If Initiative 502 passes this year, Washington will be the first state in history to legalize marijuana. It would establish a system of licensed marijuana producers, processors and retailers that would be able to provide marijuana to anyone 21 years of age or older. It would also implement a per se DUI for driving under the influence of drugs in which any individual who appears to be driving under the influence can be pulled over and have their blood tested for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Campaign Director for New Approach Washington Alison Holcomb paneled the event in favor of I-502. She said that this new approach to marijuana would reduce the costs of marijuana arrests and convictions. In 2011, there were 10,000 arrests involving marijuana, which led to 3,000 convictions. Holcomb said that these arrests disproportionally affect low-income individuals and minority members.
“A black person in Washington is half as likely as a white person to use marijuana, but is three times more likely to be arrested for it,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said that by legalizing marijuana, the state would be taking the drug out of the control of dangerous gangs and into the hands of the government, where it can be taxed to raise estimated revenues of over half a billion dollars each year for the next five years.
Opponents to this initiative, such as Steve Sarich, medical marijuana entrepreneur and director of Cannacare – a company devoted to providing legal information to medical marijuana patients – consider 502 to not be legalization at all.
Sarich said 502 is a “Trojan horse,” as he ripped the event program containing excerpts of the initiative in half on stage. He said that since marijuana is still illegal on the Federal level, nothing will prevent the DEA from coming in and shutting down Washington’s marijuana system but leaving the DUI provisions intact, creating a worse legal environment for marijuana than ever in the state.
The biggest opponents of I-502 come from the medical marijuana community. Many members of this community, including Sarich, say that the legal limit of five nanograms for THC is too low and that patients who regularly use marijuana would almost never be legally capable to drive.
Sarich also said that the financial estimates provided by the Office of Financial Management are not accurate because they assume that the state will be able to take over 100 percent of the marijuana. He said that if the Federal government shut down the marijuana market in Washington after I-502, it would be a huge financial loss.
“We can and should legalize marijuana in this state, this law just doesn’t do that,” Sarich said.