Washington judge denies GOP attempt to keep financial impact of initiatives off November ballots

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. — Information about how much money three GOP-backed initiatives would cost the state of Washington must appear on the November ballot where voters can see it, a judge on Friday ruled.

The measures to repeal the state’s landmark Climate Commitment Act and the tax on the sale of stocks and bonds as well as one that could threaten a long-term care insurance program require financial disclosures, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Allyson Zipp said in a ruling from the bench. The decision is based on a recent law that requires the state attorney general to spell out how funding would be affected by initiatives that repeal, impose or change any tax or fee.

Opponents of the measures, who said they would have massive impacts on the state’s ability to provide critical services, praised the judge’s decision.

“Their lawsuit had one inexcusable purpose: to hide the truth about the impacts of these initiatives from voters,” Aaron Ostrom, executive director of the progressive advocacy organization FUSE Washington, said in a statement. “They know they will lose if voters understand what these destructive, deceptive initiatives actually do.”

Initiative author Jim Walsh, who along with Deanna Martinez sued to keep the fiscal impact off the ballot, said in an email to The Associated Press that they were concerned the “warning label” would be “weaponized.”

“We don’t mind the idea of more information, said Walsh, chair of the state Republican Party and a state representative from Aberdeen. “What we’re concerned about is it won’t be impartial information. It will be partisan rhetoric, weaponized to make the initiatives sound bad. The fight isn’t over. We are going to continue to make the point that we want unbiased non-political information.”

Martinez is the chair of Mainstream Republicans of Washington and is on the Moses Lake City Council.

The initiatives are just a few of the ones certified after the group Let’s Go Washington, which is primarily bankrolled by hedge fund executive Brian Heywood, submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of them. Initiatives that would give police greater ability to pursue people in vehicles, declare a series of rights for parents of public-school students and bar an income tax were approved by lawmakers. Heywood did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Tim O’Neal, an analyst with the Washington Community Alliance, said in response to the decision that when voters don’t have all the facts, they are less likely to vote and have their voice heard.

“The Public Investment Impact Disclosure law is important to building the transparency we need to increase voter trust and participation in our constitutional democracy,” he said in a statement.

Initiative 2117 would repeal the state’s Climate Commitment Act, which works to cap and reduce pollution while creating revenue for investments that address climate change. It raised $1.8 billion in 2023 through quarterly auctions in which emission allowances are sold to businesses covered under the act.

Initiative 2109 would repeal the tax imposed on the sale or exchange of stocks, bonds and other high-end assets, with exemptions for the first $262,000. Initiative 2124 will decide whether state residents must pay into Washington Cares, the state’s public long-term care insurance program.

Washington legislators passed a law in 2022 that requires descriptions of how much money initiatives would cost Washington to be printed on the ballot.

Walsh and Martinez claimed the law doesn’t apply to the three measures and asked the court to bar Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson from preparing statements on their fiscal impact and bar the secretary of state from certifying those statements.

But lawyers for the state said under the law, the public has a right to know an initiative’s financial impact.

Dr. Stephan Blanford, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, a nonpartisan child advocacy organization, said initiatives would give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires while cutting funding for education. He also said the initiative to repeal the capital gains tax would push the state’s education system further into the red.

“By jeopardizing $8.1 billion in long-term care funding, I-2124 will put more tax pressure on Millennials and Gen Z to pay for a tidal wave of state Medicaid costs for aging Washingtonians, and increase the cost of care for millions of middle-income families,” he said.

The initiative to repeal the state’s carbon market “would allow more pollution across Washington, devastate funding air, water, and land protection, and cut funding to prevent wildfires and investments in transportation,” he said.