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Electoral Miscellany 

As of press time, Spokane had five contenders for mayor and 14 candidates for three City Council seats. Though we've tried to introduce you to all of them over the last few weeks, we can't blame you if you can't keep them all straight. Which candidate runs a golf cart business? Who's the guy who owns Merlyn's again?

Luckily, the results of the primary should roll in within a day after the Aug. 21 deadline, and the field will be winnowed down to more manageable numbers, allowing you to focus on the politicians you despise most and the candidates you think might breathe new life into this city.

In the meantime, don't forget that politicians don't get to hog the entire ballot. The city, the county and the state want to hear your voice on issues, too. Here are a few of the biggies you should start thinking about now.

A TAX ON TAXES

The most contentious issue on the state ballot this November might not even appear on the ballot. Last week, the state Supreme Court decided to hear arguments against Initiative 960, an anti-tax measure sponsored by initiative junkie Tim Eyman and Mike and Jack Fagan of Spokane. The proposition would limit the state legislature's ability to raise or impose taxes, requiring either a two-thirds majority vote in Olympia or a public vote to increase them. It would also require the state to send out news releases every time the legislature even thinks about raising taxes.

But opponents of the initiative (the Service Employees International Union, AARP and others) call it unconstitutional and "a threat to representative democracy" (according to one anti-Eyman Website). They want the proposition to be thrown out before it can even reach the ballot.

Despite the court's decision to hear their case, though, opponents will likely have a rough go of it. Shawn T. Newman, the state director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, told The Olympian in June that pre-vote challenges like this are rarely successful. "It's a pre-election challenge, which normally are very difficult [to win] on campaigns," he told the paper. "Most times, the courts don't want to issue advisory opinions."

The high court will hear arguments on Sept. 6.

SIMPLE MAJORITY

While Eyman tries to make it harder to raise taxes, Engrossed Joint House Resolution 4204 aims to make it easier. If approved, it would no longer be necessary to get a 60 percent supermajority "yes" vote for school levy approval. Instead, a simple majority of 50 percent plus one would trigger the school funding, making it more likely to pass. It would also do away with validation requirements that render such "excess" levies moot if 40 percent of the people who voted in the last election don't make it out for the current election.

Very confusing. Which is part of the reason proponents are pushing the current measure. "We prefer the 'simple' approach: the majority rules," the Washington State School Directors' Association states on its Website. It argues that the current setup makes it unduly hard for schools to ask for money when approval for new jails or stadiums don't have to get the same voter support.

The Seattle P-I reports that of the 363 school district money measures submitted to Washington voters since January 2006, 80 were turned down -- and that 71 of those went down with yes votes in the no man's land between 50 percent and the required 60 percent.

SPOKANE PARKS

The fate of Joe Albi Stadium and the state of Spokane's swimming facilities have been two of the hottest issues on the city's radar in the last several months. With so much contention over what to do about both, the city has put the matters up to public vote. Somewhat bafflingly, however, they've clumped them into one proposition.

Late last week, that clump got whacked down to a more manageable size, though, when the parks board cut out plans for an indoor swimming pool and a widened esplanade running through Riverfront Park downtown. The change also cut the price tag nearly in half, dropping it from $78.4 million to $42.9 million.

The decision to cut out a new indoor pool (Spokane doesn't currently have one) angered some who lobbied for it, but the cheaper cost might be more palatable to voters. For the money (about $22 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home), the public would still get a new park at the Joe Albi stadium site (including new soccer and softball fields, a BMX bike track and a skateboard facility), a new outdoor swimming pool on the north side, reconstruction of five other existing outdoor pools and improved baseball fields, among other features.

CONSERVATION FUTURES

Camp Sekani, Downriver Park's disc golf course, the James T. Slavin Conservation Area south of Spokane -- all were purchased as part of Spokane County's Conservation Futures program, which uses property tax money to preserve undeveloped, natural land for recreational use, as secluded areas or as buffers in urban areas. Among other areas acquired by the funding are the Drumheller Conservation Area in north Spokane, the Romine area west of Riverside State Park and the Liberty Lake Conservation Area.

All told, the Conservation Futures program has obtained almost 4,300 acres since its inception in 1994, according to county parks special projects manager John Bottelli. That's when Spokane County commissioners adopted the program (for which the state Legislature had paved the way in 1971) on a three-year basis. In 1997, citizens voted to keep it for another five. They re-upped in 2002, but that five-year time limit is set to expire at the end of this year.

The vote on the November ballot is simply an advisory one. County commissioners have the final say on whether to reauthorize the program and continue to levy the tax (which amounts to six cents levied per $1,000 of property value). Bottelli says purchases already under way -- like a three-phase acquisition of 1,100 wild acres around Antoine Peak, north of the Valley -- should continue without reauthorization.

CRIME CHECK

As of press time, county commissioners were expected to put a measure on the November ballot allowing the public to vote for a sales tax increase that would fund Crime Check, a 24-hour crime reporting system that was crippled in 2004 when the city of Spokane couldn't afford to keep up its end of the finances. Since that time, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told the Spokesman-Review in June, crime reports have been down by 50 percent (and we're guessing that probably doesn't correspond with a 50 percent reduction in crime). A "yes" vote would levy a one-tenth-of-a-percent sales tax increase to fund the hotline for non-emergency calls.

 

A FEW OTHERS

Referendum 67: Would make it illegal for insurance companies to unreasonably deny certain coverage claims.

Amendment ESSJR 8206: Would require the legislature to squirrel away 1 percent of state revenues a year, for savings.

Amendment SJR 8212: Would authorize inmate labor programs and prohibit similar private companies from competing.

Amendment SHJR 4215: Would authorize investments in higher education permanent funds.

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