By TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Resolution 4204 & r & Simple Majority for School Levies & r & ((YES)) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n 1944, the Washington Legislature bumped up the requirement for passing school levies from a simple 50 percent plus one to 60 percent. Ever since, 59 percent hasn't meant a big win, but instead a loss for school districts. Still, it's a bit puzzling why this has come up now, since the passage rate is high; in 2006, 271 out of 279 levies passed statewide.
But when they do fail, it's a huge problem for school districts, as drastic cuts often result. Washington, like the rest of the United States, needs to keep its K-12 education system strong to fuel the innovation economy that will keep us competitive. The advocates of this measure are right when they point out that something's wrong when it takes a simple majority to build a publicly funded sports stadium but it takes a super majority to educate children.
A last-minute effort to force districts to hold their levy elections in November to get a representative turnout failed, and that would have been a good idea. But that's not enough reason to scuttle this ballot measure. Vote yes and keep our public schools strong.
Higher Ed Investments
This change to the state constitution would grant funds set up by our public higher education institutions the flexibility to manage their money better. Currently the list of ways they can invest is limited, but with this change, fund managers could choose from the entire spectrum of financial instruments, including stocks and bonds from private industry. Critics worry this could lead to setbacks if markets fail, and that's why these institutions must invest conservatively. Overall, however, Washington is not allowing these nest eggs to grow as fast as they could.
This simple change to the state constitution requires the maintenance of an emergency fund. Critics worry that the rules make it too hard to get at the money that will build up in this new "Rainy Day" fund, but that's just as it should be. If it's too easy to tap, it's not a true emergency fund.
New Inmate Labor Rules
It's understandable that there's always a strong impulse to force those who wind up on the wrong side of the law to find a way to contribute. This ballot measure would allow inmates held in state jails to work for private businesses. Currently inmates are often put to work for public purposes, on road crews or in state parks, and that is entirely appropriate. But we already have an outsourcing problem in this country, and there is some merit to the argument that inmates could wind up taking jobs away from law-abiding citizens. More important, however, is the moral question of whether we should create a kind of second-class incarcerated workforce for somebody's private gain.
Last session, the legislature passed the Insurance Fair Conduct Act. Insurance companies didn't like it, gathered enough signatures to challenge it, and now voters get to decide. To help, insurance companies will have spent more than $10 million on TV ads to persuade people to block the new law -- about what a U.S. Senate campaign costs here. If that figure shocks you, consider the insurance industry spent $80 million to defeat a similar measure in California -- and that was back in 1988. Or just consider that the American insurance industry made more than $40 billion in profit last year.
So what has them so worried? The new regulation would "make it unlawful for insurers to unreasonably deny certain coverage claims." And if a judge decides the companies do unreasonably deny coverage, they can be held liable for triple damages. Currently in Washington and only four other states, if an insurance company unfairly denies you coverage, there is no penalty. Of course, if you don't keep up your end of the deal and fail to pay your premium, they just cancel your policy.
State government -- any government -- should make sure the playing field of American society is level. There's nothing wrong with making a good profit, but when an industry spends this much to avoid regulation, you have to wonder about its business model. They claim the triple damages will enrich trial lawyers and raise everybody's rates, but it's simple: If they never unreasonably deny coverage a customer has paid for, the triple damages will never kick in.
It's called a deterrent, like the threat of jail for robbing a bank. Don't rob the bank, stay out of jail. Vote yes, and keep the insurance industry honest.
Two-Thirds Approval for Tax Increases
Tim Eyman hopes to tighten the straightjacket that is I-601 by requiring the state to seek two-thirds voter approval of every tax increase, new fee or fund transfer, apparently no matter how minor. This is an effort to micromanage just about every aspect of governance, and it's still not clear how many matters would be referred to a vote. At the high estimates, we could expect significantly larger and more confusing ballots -- and more expensive elections.
A similar law was enacted briefly in Colorado and repealed after it was wreaking havoc with funding of critical services. Whenever initiatives are this poorly defined, the chance for painful unintended consequences grows. Eyman should relax -- he has already won the tax fight, with all the initiatives he has helped enact. I-960 just takes it too far.