There’s a bite in the air. Networks are running fall primetime premieres. Stores are confused — is it Christmas or Halloween? Is Thanksgiving still a thing?
It is election season.
Soon, mailboxes across the state will be graced with democracy envelopes, paper-based attempts to show us that, in a representative government in which majority selectively rules, your voice — yes, yours! — really does matter.
And it does. Voters delegate governance to elected officials, but they get to weigh in directly on initiatives, a system created to bypass monied interests and wayward politicians. Washingtonians have a chance to change policies in this state on four key issues: carbon taxes, sugary beverage taxes, gun control and the legal standards around prosecuting police shootings.
Cantwell v. Hutchison and the fate of the Senate may be one reason voters come out, but these four initiatives could impact social justice and equity issues in the state and, potentially, the impending doom that is our planet. So, you know, no pressure.
First up: Initiative 1631, a proposed tax on carbon emissions. Readers may be aware of a recent climate report from the United Nations that determined the planet is heading toward irrevocable climate catastrophe within 12 years if we don’t remake our global economy to reduce carbon emissions.
Part of that, the report says, will be putting a price on carbon emissions. Washington is proposing to do just that — 1631 would require major polluters like fossil fuel companies to pay $15 per metric ton of carbon released into the atmosphere. That amount would increase by $2 every year and will be adjusted for inflation. If passed, it would be the first tax on carbon approved by and for the people, which is a political gamble that governor and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee has decided to go all in on.
The idea is opposed by the state’s Republican Party and energy interests that have raised millions to fight it. At the same time, the fee is a tiny fraction of the amount that the United Nations report says would help curb global apocalypse. The U.N. estimates that an effective carbon tax would cost between $135 and $5,500 per metric ton by 2030 and grow from there.
Next: Initiative 1634, a proposal that would ban taxes on raw or processed foods applicable after Jan. 15, 2018. Campaign ads on television would have you believe that somebody is coming for your kale. In fact, the campaign is largely backed by beverage companies, and it’s not hard to see why. Seattle recently passed a sugary beverages tax that places a 1.75-cent tax on every ounce of certain sugar-sweetened beverages. The tax was intended to reduce consumption and fund healthy food and educational programs, a win-win in public policy. It is expected to raise more than $20 million in 2018, considerably more than the $15 million that city officials originally estimated.
Other taxes have been effective. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released three studies in September looking at the impact of sugary beverage taxes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Boulder, Colorado.
Long story short, businesses ended up passing the vast majority of the cost of the tax onto consumers in Boulder, the city with the highest tax at 2-cents per ounce. Philadelphia didn’t see a huge drop in sugar consumption, but adults did curb their habits by up to 10 times per month.
Initiative 1639 would place some of the most stringent restrictions on guns in the country. It would require increased background checks, training, age limitations and waiting periods for sales or delivery of semiautomatic assault rifles and create criminal penalties for owners if an unauthorized person gains access to their gun.
Semiautomatic rifles or guns modified to operate like semiautomatic rifles using devices known as “bump stocks” are the firearm of choice for mass shooters. According to an analysis by The New York Times, 173 people have been killed in mass shootings in the U.S. that involved AR-15s.
And yes, we know that AR does not stand for “assault rifle.”
According to the Public Disclosure Commission, groups by the name of “Save Our Security,” “Shall Not Be Infringed” and “Washingtonians and the National Rifle Association for Freedom” have donated to defeat the measure.
Finally, Initiative 940. This initiative would increase training for police officers around de-escalation and reduce the legal standard to hold an officer liable for use of deadly force. The path for this initiative has been long and winding. Organizers successfully got it to the Washington state Legislature where it passed, but a lawsuit has sent it back to the people.
If you want to learn more about these ballot initiatives, there are several organizations holding discussions on their pros and cons. Check out the LGBTQ Allyship event on Oct. 24 from 6 – 8 p.m. at SouthSide Commons (the event will also be livestreamed) or the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project Advocacy event on Oct. 23 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Prospect Congregational United Church of Christ.
Real Change isn’t in the business of telling you how to vote. However, dear reader, we do ask one thing of you — vote.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Check out the full Oct. 17 - 23 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.