State legislators Sen. Jim Honeyford and Representatives Dan Newhouse and Bruce Chandler spoke to the Sunnyside Republican Club Friday morning regarding the initiatives and referendums on the ballot this year.
Honeyford started off the discussion taking about Referendum 55, which, if passed will allow charter schools in Washington state as a five-year pilot project.
The issue, which was passed 27 to 22 in the Senate and 51 to 46 in the House, would allow the establishment of 45 charter schools in the state.
According to Honeyford, if the initiative is passed new charter public schools will be opening in the state. He added that these are not religious or private schools, but public schools, which will fall under fewer regulations than the other public schools in the state.
Based on what has occurred in other states that have developed a charter school program, 13.7 percent of the students attending these schools come from home schooling, religious or other non-denominational schools.
A vote to pass the initiative would approve it as the legislators originally passed it, said Honeyford.
Supporters of the charter schools, which are non-profit public corporations, would be responsible for raising the initial start-up costs. There are federal grants specifically for charter schools, said Honeyford. In addition, roughly $7,000 a year per student would be allocated to the schools from the state, which is money that would have otherwise gone to the public schools.
"I don't believe that takes any money away from the public schools because it is no longer their responsibility to educate that child," said Honeyford.
The schools will be required to take any students who apply, no mater if they have language issues, are on free or reduced lunch programs or have a learning disability.
"I view this as a way to encourage and get more students to graduate," said Honeyford. "This is a big issue in Western Washington. I suspect there would be very few in Eastern Washington."
He added that he believes that there needs to be a way to give parents another option in a district that is not doing a good job.
Besides new charter schools, the law would provide that one or all schools in a district could become a charter school.
The I-892 gambling issue is another that will go before voters. The initiative is designed to try and level the playing field between tribal casinos and public establishments.
Honeyford said instead of pull tabs and punch cards, businesses with gambling licenses could have electronic machines, which are similar, but not slot machines.
He explained that the machines would go in businesses that already have gambling licenses and that there is a cap on the number of machines that could go in. A business that has revenue of between $400,000 and $500,000 per year would be limited to seven machines.
Honeyford said the tribes are supposed to pay 2 percent of their revenues in a form of tax. Non-tribal gambling pays 20 percent on revenue.
"The tribes are concerned if this passes they will have competition," said Chandler. "Right now they have none."
Newhouse discussed I-872, which, if passed, would change the state primary election process so that the top two vote-getters would go onto the general election.
The initiative would basically do away with the party system and become more of a popularity contest, said Newhouse.
"Parties would no longer nominate their candidate," said Newhouse.
He added that candidates wouldn't state a party affiliation, but would rather state a party preference.
"If a candidate dies the party would no longer be able to replace the person by party," said Newhouse.
The initiative would also essentially make it so that no other parties would be represented. Newhouse said that in 2000, more than 180,000 people in Washington state voted for someone other than the two major party candidates.
Although some believe the initiative will have little impact on the elections, Newhouse said that in the past 20 years it would have affected 33 percent of the gubernatorial races. He said it would have changed the outcome of who would have been governor because in at least one case the governor wouldn't have made the general election ballot.
Honeyford said the real question is do people want their voice restricted in the primary or in the general election?
I-292, an initiative that would cease operations at Hanford, is also on the ballot, said Newhouse.
Supporters of the initiative claim that more than a million gallons of waste have already leaked out, polluting the ground and the Columbia River.
The initiative would require more extensive monitoring of ground water and would stop the addition of more waste until the waste that is on the site is completely cleaned up.
Newhouse said that 90 percent of the waste from Hanford is going to other states and that the initiative puts inter-state relations in jeopardy.
In the end the initiative will be played out in court, believes the three local legislators.
"It's a lawyer's dream," said Chandler, who added that the initiative would paralyze any work going on at the site and also close Pacific Northwest Lab, one of the leading labs in the nation.
The one-cent increase in the state's portion of the sales tax, proposed in I-884, was the last initiative discussed at the meeting.
The initiative is in response to I-728 and I-732, which were approved by voters, but the state couldn't afford to fund.
Chandler said the money raised in the tax increase would be put into a dedicated fund for schools and administered by two separate citizens boards, one for pre-school and the other for schools serving older children.
Chandler said what is dangerous about the initiative is that the money will be handled by people who are not elected officials. He added that the boards will have the rule-making authority.
All the education general funds from the state would also be managed by the group.
He said the state is estimating that $950 million over the next five years will be levied, but Chandler feels that number is high because the tax will discourage shoppers from buying within state, which will in turn hurt the local economy.