I had a conversation with a signature gatherer the other day. Like most paid signature gatherers, he had a number of petitions, none of which I signed. I think the initiative process has gotten out of hand in Washington. There’s a reason we have a legislature, and it is to make laws through a deliberative process. They are supposed to get the best, most accurate information available, and weigh competing interests and goals in their decisions. That process is tedious, time consuming and full of minutia. The legislature went through that process last year in trying to formulate a budget. Ultimately, that budget had severe cuts and some targeted tax increases. Nobody was happy, and that’s a pretty good indicator that they did the best they could do.
Naturally, an initiative went on the ballot and the tax increases were undone, causing yet another fiscal crisis. In addition, another initiative put a supermajority requirement on any revenue increase. Of course, the taxes that were repealed were taxes on candy, alcohol, soft drinks, and plastic water bottles. Each and every one was a completely voluntary tax. If you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t buy the candy bar. The initative campagin was bankrolled by the food and beverage industry. The signature gatherers were paid.
To me, that’s a big part of the problem. If big business doesn’t like a law, they can just pay a bunch of folks to gather signatures and then run political ads that we all know tell the truth without using distortions and emotional appeals to make their case.
I asked the signature gatherer whether he was paid. His answer was intriguing. He said that initiative don’t get to the ballot without paid signature gatherers. Grass roots initiatives simply don’t get enough support without the money. I think that’s how it should be. Take the money out of the equation and limit signature gathering to volunteers. It leaves the inititative process in place while raising the bar for the public’s ability to undo the work of their elected officials.