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Initiative

The People's Initiative – Notes

© 2009-2012 Philip Bitar

The initial line in capital letters will establish the initiative as statute law upon approval by the people as such. Section 3, in turn, provides for establishing section 1 as a constitutional amendment.

The price of government is defined as annual income plus total debt because debt is committed future income.

Annual income includes all revenue except federal revenue that, by federal law, must be accepted by the state. In the biennium 2011-2013, as of 2012-09, 30% of state income was federal revenue and 70% was state revenue. To see this, at www.fiscal.wa.gov, click Revenue. We could exclude fees for permits, licenses, and services, complemented by the restriction that such fees must be limited to covering the respective costs. However, this source comprises less than 1% of state revenue, so its not worth making an exception and thereby inviting the temptation for abuse.

State gross domestic product, or GDP, will be determined by the legislature through the implementation power of the initiative. The use of GDP merely allows the price ceiling to grow with the income of the economy, so measurement precision is not critical. To the extent that the legislature may be able to define GDP in a way that inflates its value, the people will be able to lower the ceiling by direct vote, so ultimate control rests with the people.

At the beginning of a fiscal year, since the legislature wont know the GDP for the new year, the legislature must estimate the GDP based on recent GDPs and on current-year data as it is obtained during the year. This will allow the legislature to tentatively plan its budget for the new year while also allowing the budget to grow or shrink as needed. GDP usually grows by a few percent each year. However, in the rare event that GDP shrinks, the legislature must respond accordingly, just like every business and every family must do in the face of decreasing income and borrowing power, namely, by spending less or by drawing on savings.

The need for the legislature to track GDP, as it emerges, and to limit spending accordingly will establish the proper mindset for making government fiscally responsible. It will also establish the mindset that government must be wise in seeking to foster economic prosperity so that it will have money to spend. Note that approval of the initiative will motivate the legislature to streamline collection of the data that is used to determine GDP.

Sale tax comprises nearly half of state revenue. As a result, suppose that we have the unlikely event that as the fiscal year is coming to an end income+debt will exceed the ceiling and, because the debt is so small, income+debt can't be sufficiently reduced by paying down debt with income. Then in the last month of the fiscal year, the sale tax rate should be reduced sufficiently to bring income+debt below the ceiling. Such a provision is not part of the initiative text but is up to the legislature to determine per the implementation clause of the initiative.

The role of the signature threshold is to regulate the approximate number of ceiling measures that appear on a ballot: a higher threshold will reduce the number, while a lower threshold will increase the number. Since there is no objective rationale for what the number should be, the people will have control of the threshold in order to choose the approximate number of their choice. This will also enable the people to change the threshold in order to adjust for factors that may affect the number of measures that qualify for the ballot. For example, as the petitioning procedure moves from signing petitions to online voting, this is bound to affect the number of ceiling measures that qualify for the ballot for a given threshold. But with the people in control of the threshold, the people will be able to adjust for this factor by changing the threshold.

To avoid inconsistent results for a ballot having multiple measures, a voter votes for the measures that they are in favor of, ignoring the remaining measures, but they may not vote to both raise and lower the ceiling. A majority vote is a majority of the total number of ballots. It follows that it is impossible to obtain approval for both raising and lowering the ceiling.

As for printing petitions, I envision a transformation of the petition process in the modern age of computers and internet. In this scenario, I envision that most citizens who wish to sign a petition will download the petition from the website of the sponsoring organization, print the petition at home, sign it, and mail it to the organization. For this reason, the initiative disallows the legislature from preventing this by, say, requiring a paper size of 11 x 17, or by requiring double-sided printing, which some printers may not be able to automatically do. Eventually petition signing will be implemented via the web without the need for hardcopy, so eventually few people will sign hardcopy petitions, but the option will always remain open until the organizations that sponsor the petitions cease to accept hardcopy petitions. Until that day if that day ever arrives the citizens will be assured of the ability to print petitions on their own printers.

Public disclosure of petition signers is prohibited to prevent their harassment, exploitation, and identity theft. This idea came from Tim Eyman's court battle with the Washington State Secretary of State to prohibit the secretary from disclosing petition signers.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, "The People's Initiative: Notes", posted at www.LetsTearUpTheBlankCheck.com, 2009-11-17, updated 2012-12-01.


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