November’s general election is still four months away, so you may not have heard much about Washington’s Initiative 1053, the latest venture from initiative impresario Tim Eyman.
This time, his biggest financial backer is BP, so no doubt, you’ll start hearing more soon.
I-1053 would institute minority rule in Washington state, empowering one-third (plus one) of the members of either the state House or Senate to prevent the majority from closing tax loopholes or raising new revenues. That, of course, is why BP likes it so much: they don’t want to pay more taxes on the pollution they create, so they’ve ponied up $65,000 to help convince voters to enable a minority of legislators to block new pollution fees. (Oil companies Tesoro and Conoco and oil refiner Equilon have each contributed $50,000, putting them in a three-way tie for second biggest funder.)
For some folks, the fact that Tim Eyman is behind it—and that BP is its biggest funder—may be enough to decide that they don’t like it. But every policy deserves to be judged on the merits, rather than on who supports it.
So I’ve given the measure a close review. My conclusion? It stinks.
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Let’s ignore for the moment that I-1053 is almost certainly in violation of the state constitution and that other states’ experience with minority rule confirms its ill effects. Instead, two simpler arguments:
1. I-1053 is a Trojan Horse for the oil industry.
In early 2010, the legislature briefly suspended I-960—Eyman’s 2007-vintage minority rule law for revenue measures—until July 2011. The members then set about closing a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. They made huge cuts in spending and also added modest new revenue sources, such as charges on soda pop, gum, candy, and bottled water.
The legislature also came close to increasing the state’s Hazardous Substances Tax, which falls mostly on oil. The resulting revenues would have paid for clean water programs for Puget Sound and other water bodies. It would have financed oil spill prevention and better infrastructure for capturing oil-polluted runoff from our communities. Oil companies spent a lot of money lobbying the legislature to stop this effort, which would have held them accountable for the pollution they help create.
The main legal effect of Eyman and BP’s 1053 is to shorten the suspension of I-960 by eight months, from July 1, 2011 to election day, November 2, 2010. Why bother? Why would the oil industry put up more than $200,000 so far for an initiative that would only be in effect for eight months?
These few months are important to the oil industry because they include a session of the state legislature. During the 2011 legislative session, the one revenue issue everyone knows will be on the agenda is a repeat of the Hazardous Substances Tax fight. That’s why the oil companies are funding Eyman’s latest initiative; they’re the main beneficiaries. If 1053 passes, the oil industry will guarantee itself a legislative victory. They’ll avoid paying their fair share for clean water in Washington, which might end up being tens of millions of dollars a year.
2. I-1053 (Re-)imposes Minority Rule.
Democracy’s most fundamental principle is majority rule. It’s a principle deeply held by voters. Opinion research shows that voters strongly agree with these statements: “In a democracy, a majority of legislators should be able to pass everyday legislation,” and “In a democracy, a minority of lawmakers should not be able to block everyday legislation.” Specifically, an overwhelming majority of voters believe that “All legislative actions on revenue and budgets must be determined by a majority vote.” (Caveat: This opinion research is from California—and here’s more—not the Northwest, but I’d bet my eye teeth that polling here would find similar public beliefs. Californians and Cascadians aren’t so different.)
Initiative 1053 violates these principles. It re-instates I-960 and gives a veto to a minority of just one-third (plus one) of the members of either the state House or Senate. Should one-third of just one house be able to veto the elimination of tax loopholes that shower public resources on coal plants, bull semen, laser interferometer gravitational wave observatories and dozens of other business and commercial activities? Should one-third of either house be able to prevent collection of the revenue needed to fulfill the state’s constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to fund your community’s schools?
I-1053’s backers will likely attempt to market it as a populist measure to protect citizens’ pocketbooks. It’s not. It’s the BP Protection Act: an assault on majority rule that lets the oil industry off the hook for polluting Northwest waters. A tar ball of a public policy, Eyman’s I-1053 is ugly and destructive. It stinks.
Big praise for Sightline’s Christine Winckler, who created the graphic for this post.
Yes, absolutely—THANKS for crediting the graphic designer!You go, Christine!
I want to say something catty like “Eyman should go back to selling watches” but obviously he’s quite good at this destructive politicking. Thanks for this informative analysis, Alan. Here’s some more BP art for you: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunchbreath/4664438918/
Georgie Bright Kunkel
Since corporations rule the world and humans live a limited amount of time, Tim Eyman is doing what many greedy humans do–live the good life as long as possible with the help of the corporation’s contributions. Tim once took contributor’s moneywhen he shouldn’t have but that didn’t stop him from continuingin his initiative money making schemes. Now he probably gets an even bigger take from BP in his latest initiative submission.Citizens are so disillusioned over corporations buying elections and being all powerful that anyone who seems to be ready to kill the dragon is their friend. We often shoot ourselves in the footin our frustration and stress. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot this time round. We need to stop corporate personhood from doing any more damage to our democracy.
So, you say:”For some folks, the fact that Tim Eyman is behind it—and that BP is its biggest funder—may be enough to decide that they don’t like it. But every policy deserves to be judged on the merits, rather than on who supports it.”That’s sound. After all bad people occasionally support good things and good people bad things, for a host of different reasons, sometimes good and sometimes bad. So I’m a little puzzled by why, after aknowledging that reality of human decision-making, you devote FOUR paragraphs to arguing that the initiative sucks because oil supports it, and they support it because it will benefit them. Both points are almost certainly true, but the question, as you pointed out IMMEDIATELY BEFORE, isn’t who supports the measure, or even WHY they support the measure. The question is simply what effect the measure will have on we the people. Reason #2 is certainly on point, but I would have liked a bit more analysis on the state-wide effects of continuing existing loopholes.
Tristan Bordon,The point of my “four paragraphs” on the oil industry’s support is that 1053 will prevent the state of Washington from making the oil industry pay its fair share for protecting clean water in the state. Which means, more oil will leak into Puget Sound, the Spokane, the Columbia, and other bodies of water.That’s a substantive argument, not an ad hominem one.