By Ivanhoe/The AS Review

Whatcom County voters received their mail-in ballots last week for the 2009 general election. Ballots are due on Election Day, which falls on Tuesday, Nov. 3 this year.

On the ballot are two statewide measures that will affect many, if not all, Washington residents directly or indirectly. Initiative Measure 1033 would limit the size of Washington’s state, county and city budgets by reducing property taxes, while Referendum Measure 71 would change Washington’s domestic partnership laws to grant same-sex couples and opposite-sex senior domestic partners rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage. What follow are summaries of each measure.

Initiative Measure 1033 (I-1033)

The ballot reads, “This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies. Should this measure be enacted into law?”

According to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, state and local governments collect revenue from taxes and fees. If voters approve I-1033, it would only allow state and local governments to increase “general-fund” revenue proportionate to the national inflation rate and the size of the population a government serves, unless voters approve further increases. Federal grants and fees for contracted services of a nongovernmental nature would be exempt from the law. Since revenue fluctuates from year to year, any amount of money a government collects beyond its allowable budget under I-1033 would have to be placed into a “Lower Property Tax Account.” The balance in that account would be used to lower the amount of taxes owed by landowners in Washington.

The law would be called the “Lower Property Taxes Act of 2009.” Sales taxes and other taxes would remain unchanged under the law.

As required by law, the Washington Office of Financial Management (OFM) did a fiscal analysis of I-1033 and found that Washington State would likely lose $5.9 billion in estimated revenue under the law through the year 2015, while local governments would collectively lose about $2.8 billion in revenue over the same period.

The current state general fund is about $29.8 billion for the 2009-2010 biennium, according to the OFM. Of this amount, 51.6 percent is raised from sales taxes, 22.7 percent from business and real estate taxes, 13.3 percent from miscellaneous sources including liquor sales, tobacco taxes and lottery proceeds and 12.4 percent from property taxes.

The Seattle Times reported in an Oct. 19 article, titled “I-1033 Could Hit Higher Ed Especially Hard,” that Washington’s public colleges and universities would likely see further budget cuts (and, as a result, high tuition hikes)as a result of the Lower Property Taxes Act, according to some state lawmakers.

Washington’s constitution and state laws currently limit all property tax increases to 1 percent per year, unless voters approve larger increases.

I-1033 is supported by antitax activist Tim Eyman’s grassroots organization Voters Want More Choices. According to its Web site, its supporters believe that property taxes are too high and the state is irresponsible with taxpayers’ money. Critics, however, argue that a similar measure passed in Colorado in 1992, the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act, which they say crippled that state’s economy until voters suspended the law in 2005.

Proponents of I-1033 include, the editorial board of the Bellevue Reporter, the Electric Contractors Association and the National Federation of Independent Business. Opponents include the Seattle Times editorial board, the Washington Student Association and State Treasurer Jim McIntyre.

Referendum Measure 71

The ballot reads, “The legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage. Should this bill be: [ ] Approved [ ] Rejected.”

Bill 5688 passed in the Washington State Senate with 30 votes in favor and 18 against last April. In May, it passed in the Washington State House of Representatives with 62 votes in favor and 35 against. Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law. Most provisions of the law were slated to come into effect in July. However, the state constitution allows voters to force a referendum if sufficient numbers petition for one, as was the case with this bill, so effective dates were postponed pending approval on Election Day.

According to Secretary Reed, current Washington state law grants domestic partnership certificates to same-sex partners and to opposite-sex partners when one of the partners is at least 62 years old. Domestic partnerships allow hospital visitation rights, title and rights to cemetery plots, insurance benefits for partners of public employees, and some rights and responsibilities regarding property, taxes and court processes. Domestic partners of public officials are subject to conflict-of-interest laws and domestic partners who do not have children or assets in excess of $25,000 may terminate their partnerships through a non-judicial process with the Office of the Secretary of State, a process unavailable to married couples.

The state constitution defines marriage as an institution for members of the opposite sex only, but it does not prohibit domestic partnerships with similar rights and responsibilities.

If Referendum 71 passes, the new law would grant all holders of domestic partnership certificates identical rights to holders of marriage certificates. Domestic partners would gain such things as the right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner, to collect a partner’s unpaid wages if he or she dies, spousal status in insurance benefits, business succession rights, adoption rights and responsibility for child support. The nonjudicial process for terminating a domestic partnership would be repealed.

The new law would not change the state constitution to redefine marriage or change any of the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by married partners. The new law would affect all domestic partnerships obtained before the activation of the law in addition to any domestic partnerships obtained thereafter. Because domestic partnerships are not marriages, neither the federal government nor other states are required to recognize them. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s freedom of religion protection, no church is obliged to recognize any domestic partnership or civil marriage.

If Referendum 71 does not pass, then Bill 5688 will not become law. However, no rights or responsibilities currently enjoyed by domestic partners would be rescinded.

Proponents of the bill claim that offering same-sex couples access to the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples strengthens families and validates same-sex relationships. Opponents also believe that the bill validates same-sex relationships, but they oppose them on moral grounds and believe that they weaken opposite-sex families by trivializing marriage.

Referendum 71 is supported by the editorial boards of the Seattle Times and the Western Front, the Washington Association of Churches and the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force. Opponents include the editorial board of the Chronicle of Lewis County, the Faith and Freedom Network and the Washington State Catholic Conference.


Washington Elections & Voting

Voters Want More Choices (pro-Initiative 1033)

No on I-1033 Committee

Approve Referendum 71

Protect Marriage Washington (anti-Referendum 71)