Time to vote: statewide initiatives in brief — carbon tax, state minimum wage, campaign finance

While the presidential race between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is at the top of minds this election, Washington state voters have a number of measures to consider.

Carbon Tax — Initiative 732
I-732 aims to create a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel generated electricity. It would cut sales tax by 1%, reduce the businesses and occupation tax on manufacturing and fund a partial sales tax exemption for low-income families.

The carbon tax, which would increase over time, would be collected by the first seller or burner of the fossil fuel in the state.

The tax will make fossil fuels more expensive in an attempt to encourage a push for clean energy and reduce emissions by at least 2% annually, Kyle Murphy, Carbon Washington campaign co-director, said at a League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County forum earlier this month.

The initiative, which Murphy said is revenue neutral, is crafted after British Columbia’s model, but he admitted it will take more than one policy to make further advancements.

“The clock’s ticking. We owe it to our kids and grandkids to take action on this issue,” Murphy said.

A price needs to be put on carbon emissions, Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council said, but I-732 isn’t the way to do it.

“It’s not going to bring down carbon emissions quickly enough,” Johnson said.

The tax needs to bring in positive revenue to investments in clean energy, he said, and the initiative is revenue neutral as best.

Fossil fuel workers will lose their jobs, and the initiative doesn’t support them, he said.

Minimum Wage — Initiative 1433
I-1433 would incrementally raise the state minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 in 2020, and it would require employers to give workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

Seattle is already incrementally increasing its minimum wage to $15, but according to Teresa Mosqueda, political & strategic campaign director with the Washington State Labor Council, a study of the six largest cities in the state shows a boost is needed elsewhere too.

At the forum, she said the study using 2014 data found the average wage required to support one person was about $13.61.

Yvette Ollada, spokesperson against I-1433, acknowledged that fair and good wages are important, but said the initiative is not the way to go about reaching that goal.

Research shows the optimal minimum wage would be $12 by 2020, she said.

Raising the minimum wage, Mosqueda said, would improve people’s health by reducing their financial stress, and they wouldn’t have to worry about losing a day’s pay or their job if they stay home sick.

Laws are already in place to protect workers and the initiative doesn’t provide job security if a worker is sick, Ollada said.

Mosqueda also argued that it will help local economies because workers who have a little more money will spend it on basic necessities.

Ollada said the wage increase could result in a loss of hours or jobs for workers. The different economies and unemployment rates in different regions of the state also need to be considered.

Campaign Finance Laws — Initiative 1464
I-1464 aims create a campaign-finance system allowing voters to donate up to $150 of public funds to a campaign each election. It would require public officials and employees to wait three to five years to be employed by a lobbyist. Contribution limits for lobbyist and public contractors would be lowered, and penalties for violating campaign finance laws would be increased.

Esther Handy, spokeswoman supporting I-1464, said the initiative would increase transparency, limit big money in politics and give the general public a stronger voice.

Money for the new program would come from revenue raised from repealing the nonresident sales tax exemption.

Handy said the state Department of Revenue believes the funds from closing the sales tax loophole will be sufficient.

However, Ollada, speaking for the con side of I-1464, said border communities could see a drop in patronage at their businesses, leading to lower estimates of sales tax collected.

If the money isn’t raised by closing the tax loophole, the money would be pulled from the general fund.

The initiative won’t take money out of politics, Ollada said. Instead, it will give candidates the option to take taxpayer dollars through the credit system.

Other Initiatives on the Ballot

  • I-1491 would allow courts to issue protection orders preventing gun access.
  • I-1501 would increase penalties for criminal identity theft and consumer fraud when senior citizens or vulnerable people are victimized.
  • I-735 would encourage the state’s congressional members to propose an amendment that constitutional rights belong to individuals and not corporations and that money is not a form of free speech.

You can watch a forum from the League of Women Voters on the initiatives here:

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