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Voters Render Split Decisions On Washington Ballot Measures

Luke Brummer
Campaign co-chair Yoram Bauman addresses supporters of the failed Washington state carbon tax measure at a craft brewery in Seattle.

Washington state voters said "yes" to a higher minimum wage, said "no" to what would have been a history-making state carbon tax and rendered a split decision on several campaign finance reform ideas in Tuesday's general election.

The only one of the six statewide ballot measures that inspired a well-funded opposition campaign was a proposal to fight climate change by taxing carbon emissions directly. That measure, Initiative 732, came with offsetting reductions in other state taxes.

The "revenue neutral" design was intended to broaden support, but voters did not bite. The first-in-the-nation carbon tax initiative failed in 37 of Washington's 39 counties.

"It was a collective rejection in a bipartisan way across the state of Washington, both on the west and the east side," said No on 732 Campaign Director Brandon Houskeeper, who works at the Association of Washington Business.

"I think it is clear that the discussion on climate and energy policy is not over in Washington state," Houskeeper added Tuesday night. "We believe that we have an obligation to act and to do what is right. The question is how do we come up with a pathway that is commensurate with Washington's contribution to a global problem."

Voters said 'yes' by a generous margin to raising Washington's statewide minimum wage. The state minimum wage currently stands at $9.47 per hour. It now will rise to $13.50 in four steps by the year 2020. Initiative 1433 also requires companies to give paid sick leave.

"When voters filled in their ballots, they were clear -- in Washington state, we want an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top," Carlo Caldirola-Davis, campaign manager for Raise Up Washington and the Initiative 1433 campaign, told the Associated Press Tuesday night.

Guns and mental illness were also on the ballot, drawing surprisingly little controversy or negative advertising. Initiative 1491 would allow families or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily take away the guns of a person exhibiting scary behavior -- or in the words of the measure, if the person "poses a significant danger" of doing harm to themselves or others. The legal process will be called getting an “extreme risk protection order.”

As of early Wednesday morning, I-1491 was passing with more than 71 percent in favor.

"I cannot overstate the importance of tonight's victory. This is a critical moment for our movement,” Alliance for Gun Responsibility Executive Director Renée Hopkins said at a victory party in Seattle. “Gun violence is preventable... Tonight we've taken an important step. We're going to get up tomorrow and continue to fight."

Voters appear to be giving a split decision on two ballot propositions having to do with campaign finance reform. The more complicated of these, Initiative 1464, would have repealed a sales tax exemption for shoppers who come to Washington from Oregon, Alaska and other states that don't charge sales tax. The money from the repeal of that nonresident sales tax exemption would have been dedicated to public campaign financing for candidates for state legislature beginning in 2018.

I-1464 trailed 52 percent to 48 percent as of early Wednesday, but the large number of votes outstanding make it risky to call this race for certain.

A second initiative, Initiative 735, puts Washington state on record in favor of a proposed federal constitutional amendment to reverse a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed greater corporate spending on campaigns.

I-735 is passing handily.

Finally, voters overwhelmingly approved the labor union-backed Initiative 1501, which was nominally about cracking down on identity theft. Opponents of this initiative made the case that what this initiative was really about was to prevent an anti-union group from getting the names - through a public records request - of unionized, state-paid home health care workers. The Olympia-based Freedom Foundation wants to tell those workers how they can stop paying dues to the powerful Service Employees International Union. But that will now be more difficult with voters passing I-1501 by more than 71 percent in favor.

The Freedom Foundation released a statement saying it will immediately seek a restraining order to keep I-1501 from becoming law.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.