Voters to face most initiatives ever

"Washington voters will be faced with several money-managing ballot measures in November. Some call for the state to put more money into things such as road repair, teacher salaries and reduced class size. Others seek to eliminate certain taxes, reduce funding for ferries and transit and raise penalties for poisoning or trapping animals.Meanwhile, legislators are still trying to sort out how to make the state work effectively under previous voter-approved initiatives such as I-695, which cut funding for cities, counties, and public transportation last year; 1998's Referendum 49, which reduced the state's general fund; and I-601, the 1993 measure that put limits on both taxing and spending. This time around, voters will potentially look at seven ballot issues. Six have already been given the go-ahead from state officials who certified the legal number of petition signatures. One, a measure asking if the state can charge licensing fees to geologists, is awaiting the results of a case before the Washington State Supreme Court before it can appear on the ballot.The seven measures are a substantial drop from the nearly 40 initiatives originally proposed this year. The vast majority failed to collect enough petition signatures. Just the same, the seven that remain will be a record number of initiatives on a Washington ballot. One of the reasons more public initiatives are making their way to voters is that organizations are now using paid signature gatherers who often have added incentive to collect the required 179,248 petition signatures needed per initiative.It's interesting to note, however, that Washington's record level of initiatives pales by comparison to Oregon, where voters will have to wade through 26 measures that affect more than $12 billion in funding.Here's a quick look at the statewide issues Washington voters will be deciding.Initiative 713Makes it a gross misdemeanor to capture an animal with certain body-gripping, steel-jawed leghold traps, or to poison an animal with sodium fluoroacetate or sodium cyanide.Proponents say the purpose of the initiative is to protect people and domestic pets who may accidently fall prey to the traps and poisons, and to protect and conserve wildlife from the dangers of cruel and indiscriminate trapping.People caught in violation will be subject to criminal penalties and revoking of their trapping license for a period of five years.This initiative did not use paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Initiative 722Certain 1999 tax and fee increases will be nullified, vehicles will be exempted from property taxes, and property tax increases, except new construction, will be limited to 2 percent annually.Supporters want any tax increase adopted from July 2, 1999, through December 31, 1999, to be rescinded and any money collected to be returned to taxpayers. This includes any sales and use taxes; property taxes; business and occupation taxes; fuel taxes; impact fees; license fees; permit fees; water, sewer, and other utility charges as well as many other similar taxes or fees. It does not include taxes approved by a vote of the people.Many local governments, including Oak Harbor, approved tax and/or fee increases in anticipation of lost revenue caused by the passage of I-695. This initiative would force the governments to eliminate those taxes and fees and refund the money to taxpayers.The initiative would also exempt vehicles from property taxes and would establish a new 2 percent annual limit on property-tax increases.This initiative used paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Initiative 728This initiative would redirect unobligated lottery money and part of state property tax into a student achievement fund and an education construction fund. The measure is supported by the Washington State PTA.This initiative used paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Initiative 729Would authorize school districts and public universities to sponsor charter public schools. The schools would be independently operated, staffed by certified teachers, and would be exempt from most state school regulations.This measure would make it possible for non-profit corporations to form charter schools that would be accountable to their sponsors for satisfying financial and academic goals. Teachers in such schools could choose to unionize. The schools would not need to follow state school laws except in the areas of health, safety and civil rights.This initiative used paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Initiative 732Would provide an annual cost-of-living salary adjustment for public school teachers, other school district employees, and certain employees of community and technical colleges beginning in 2001-2002.Initiative 732 supporters say they are concerned that salaries for educators have not kept up with the increased cost-of-living in the state. They worry that under the current salary system the state will have a hard time keeping good teachers and attracting new ones. Academic and classified employees of community and technical colleges are included.This initiative did not use paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Initiative 745 I-745 would direct at least 90 percent of transportation funds to be spent on road construction and maintenance.Supporters see Washington's highways and roads clogged in traffic and falling into disrepair. They also see too much money, that could be used to build more roads and repair others, currently being spent to support public transit and ferries. The measure would take 90 percent of the transportation fund; the highway fund; public transit and ferry operating accounts and reserves; public transit and ferry capital accounts and reserves; local government transportation accounts; public transportation authorities and transportation benefit districts, and make it available for roads.The controversial initiative would likely put many local transit systems, including Island Transit, out of business if it passes. Lawmakers say it would also likely be challenged in court potentially leading to years of budget crisis over transportation.This initiative used paid gatherers to acquire petition signatures.Referendum 50Would allow the state department of licensing to charge fees to geologists in sufficient amounts to cover the costs of licensing the geologist profession?Currently, licenses are required to practice various professions in the state. These include auctioneers, cosmetologists and barbers, embalmers and funeral directors, engineers and land surveyors, real estate brokers and salespersons, real estate appraisers, private investigators, security guards, athlete agents, and bail bond agents. Applicants must pay a fee for such licenses.This new law would define the practice of geology and establish a licensing board to oversee the licensing of geologists, and to collect similar licensing fees. Initiative 695, approved by the people in November 1999, requires voter approval for any new taxes or tax increases such as this. However, this portion of I-695 is being challenged in court and may be overturned. If it is, Referendum 50 will likely not appear on the ballot.Proposed Constitutional Amendment Senate Joint Resolution 8214Resolution 8214 would amend the state constitution to permit state funds held in trust for persons with developmental disabilities to be invested as authorized by law.The current state constitution generally limits the investment of state funds and prohibits the investment of state funds in the stocks and bonds of private companies, associations, or corporations. As a result, state funds can generally be invested only in savings certificates and in the obligations of government agencies. Resolution 8214 would remove the constitutional limitations on investment of any fund held in trust for the benefit of persons with developmental disabilities. The legislature would be authorized to determine by law how these funds could be invested. "

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