Last week the Olympian, the newspaper of Washington’s capitol city Olympia published a deeply flawed editorial encouraging voters to reject Referendum 52. Their reason seemed almost completely based on the idea that it is too complicated and would add too much debt to the state’s existing load. Contrary to Aug. 26th’s editorial, there isn’t anything complicated in the vote for Referendum 52. It’s a chance to invest in schools, jobs, and our future. And we’ve pointed out more than once that the increase in the state’s debt limit is tiny and wouldn’t affect the state’s credit rating.
What Referendum 52 does do is dedicate $500 million in funds over the next several years for upgrades to local schools. These improvements would reduce the back-log of maintenance in cash-strapped school districts and cut down on energy spending—creating savings that would stay in our classrooms.
It isn’t just schools that will benefit. In hard economic times, unemployment continues to be a stubborn problem in our state. Referendum 52 will spur new jobs in the hard-hit construction sector at a time when there is a severe drop in home sales.
As for the Olympian’s speculation on the financial impact, even State Treasurer Jim McIntire—the official who most closely supervises the state’s finances has said (listen to his actual voice here) that this is a smart investment for our future and our kids. That’s a big turn around from when we wrote our report on the negligible effects of Referendum 52 and the Treasurer was opposed to the passage of the legislation.
And two last points to correct the writers of the editorial. The passage of Initiatives 1100, 1105, and 1107 will have zero effect on the work of implementing Referendum 52. As we’ve pointed out before the bottled water tax does not fund debt service but simply goes into the general fund. Its repeal wouldn’t prevent the authorization and use of bonds for school retrofits.
David Ammons, spokesperson for Washington’s Secretary of State, doesn’t seem to get this and has compounded the the problem*. He said, as Publicola reported, that passage of Initiative 1107 would somehow affect the implementation of Referendum 52. That just isn’t true. And we’re working to get the message out to people writing and talking about the Referendum to be clear on how they communicate on this question. It’s simple: passage of Initiative will have no effect on Referendum 52. The bonds being authorized in the legislation are General Obligations bonds and the sections of the bill affecting the bottled water tax are completely independent.
The question being considered by voters this November on Referendum 52 is simple: should we make our schools better, healthier places to learn? That should eliminate anyone’s doubt about why Referendum 52 is important.
*UPDATE: Ammons has corrected himself in an e-mail. He writes that if Referendum 52 “is approved by the voters and they do away with the bottled water fee, the bond bill would still stand and the Legislature would pay off the General Obligation bonds by whatever method they choose as they write the budget and deal with debt-service. The water tax was part of plan that would minimize the impact on the general fund.”