Forum educates voters about upcoming initiatives

"On Nov. 7, Washington voters will be asked to decide if animal trapping should be outlawed, if property tax increases should be sharply limited and four other questions posed by citizens through the initiative process.Wednesday night, the North Whidbey Chapter of the League of Women Voters, in a forum at Service Alternatives in Coupeville moderated by Donna Sedey, tried to shed some light into the sometimes confusing mixture of numbered initiatives.About 40 people showed up to hear presenters Gary Piazzon, Emily Ramsey, Dolly Lister, Dorothea Jones and Bob Lappin explain each initiative. It was meant to be a non-biased forum, though some people seemed to have a little trouble with that.I have a hard time being neutral, but I'll try, said Dorothea Jones, who presented information on the controversial road-building Initiative 745.Meanwhile, the fate of last year's most well-know initiative, I-695, is in the hands of the state Supreme Court. A King County Superior Court judge declared that it was unconstitutional after several municipalities and groups filed a lawsuit, which was joined by the city of Oak Harbor.The Supreme Court is not expected to rule until after the election, but its decision could have consequences for initiatives on the ballot this year, particularly Initiative 722, the so-called son of 695.Here's a look at this year's initiatives:* Initiative 713 would limit animal trapping by outlawing body-grabbing traps for most uses and banning the sale or purchase of furs from animals killed by these traps. Body-grabbing traps are the old-fashioned traps that snap shut and hold an animal after it is stepped on or touched. In addition, the initiative outlaws the use of the poisons sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate in baits.Supporters say the traps and poisons are cruel to animals and often kill pets by mistake. Opponents say the initiative is a first step towards banning all hunting and that trapping protects people and wildlife from dangerous animals.* Initiative 722, created by Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman, would limit taxes by preventing government from increasing property taxes by no more than 2 percent a year. Property would keep its 1999 assessed value plus no more than a 2 percent increase a year.Also, taxes and fees adopted without a vote of the people between July 2, 1999, and Dec. 31, 1999, will be refunded. Many government bodies raised taxes during that period in anticipation on I-695, which requires a public vote for all tax increases.The initiative would cost the state $340 million over the next two years. For Oak Harbor, it would mean a loss of $1 million from the city's $8 million budget and would likely result in employee layoffs and the loss of services.Supporters say that citizens should not have to pay taxes they don't vote on, that current taxes are too high and that some government bodies tried to unethically circumvent I-695 last year. Opponents say that important service will suffer from a loss of funds, that elected officials should be able to increase taxes if needed and that people whose houses are increasing in value won't pay their fair share.* Initiative 728 would increase public school funding by creating a Student Achievement Fund and a new Education Construction Fund. It would divert money from the state lottery, the emergency reserve fund and state property taxes to these funds.The initiative would bring an extra $2.7 million to Coupeville schools over the next 5 years and $10.9 million to Oak Harbor. The funds will be targeted at kindergarten to fourth grades. It will be used to make class sizes smaller, extend learning opportunities, fund teacher training, create new programs and improve school buildings.The initiative will not raise taxes. There is no organized opposition to the initiative, though some opponents say that it could divert money from other important needs and that the lottery is not a reliable source of funding.* Initiative 729 allows charter schools in the state. Charter schools are public schools operated by a non-profit, non-religious organizations with their own board of directors. The schools run under a contract with a local school district or state university. If a charter school is approved, it would get the same amount of money per student that a district gets. Yet charter schools are exempt from many of the laws that govern other public schools. Voters rejected charter schools in 1996, but Seattle billionaire Paul Allen put $3 million towards the initiative.Supporters say the initiative would allow innovation in schools and would encourage reform through competition. Opponents say it will divert needed funds from public schools.* Initiative 723 would give teachers automatic cost-of-living pay raises each year based on the federal consumer price index.Supporters say that teachers' salaries have not kept up with the increased cost of living and an automatic increase would bring more good teachers to schools. Opponents say that only teachers who are doing a good job should get pay increases and that the state may not be able to afford the increases without cutting other important services.* Initiative 745 would increase road building in the state by requiring 90 percent of transportation funds to be used for road building. Also, it would make construction materials and labor used in road building exempt sales taxes.The initiative, also created by Eyman, would have a major affect on Whidbey Island because it would mean a giant decrease in ferry funding and devastate Island Transit's free bus service.Environmental and senior citizen groups oppose the initiative because it would put more cars on the road, increase pollution and environmental sprawl, and rid the state of buses and other alternative modes that many depend on.Supporters say that it would decrease road congestion and improve the economy since business and jobs depend on roads. "

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