Politics Report: Crunch Time for Signatures on Key State Initiatives


If you’ve been out and about lately, chances are somebody tried to get you to sign Initiative 2066, which would roll back a variety of recent attempts to limit the future use of natural gas. 

The Protect Energy Choice campaign is a project of the Building Industry Association of Washington and its allies, who were especially irked this year by Puget Sound Energy’s success in getting a new law passed that makes it easier to move its customers from gas to electricity. 

So the combative home builders’ group has cranked the burners up to high to get I-2066 on the ballot this fall.  The high voter turnout of a presidential election offers a good opportunity not only to roll back PSE’s bill but stymie other attempts to limit the use of natural gas, including via state and local building codes. That means collecting 324,516 valid signatures of registered voters by this time next month. To allow for the inevitable quality control problems, you need about 400,000 people to sign. 

We checked in with the BIAW to see how the effort is going, which is very much a part of their broad opposition to government mandates that make building houses more expensive.  

The climate change forces in recent years have focused more attention on limiting the carbon emissions of buildings. In these parts, that mostly means getting rid of gas-fired heat in existing buildings in favor of heat pumps, which are generally more climate-friendly but significantly more expensive on the front end. But it also means discouraging the installment of new gas lines for any purpose, including the soothing blue flames of the gas stoves beloved by both amateur cooks and folks who make food for a living. 

Along for the ride with the BIAW are the Washington Hospitality Association (think thousands of restaurants with roaring gas stoves), the Washington Association of Realtors (buyers like a gas range and furnace in their new houses), and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (those big fruit-processing warehouses out in Central Washington use massive amounts of gas). ¹

In past years, getting a ballot measure on the ballot in such a short time frame would be massively expensive, and this year’s effort certainly won’t be cheap. But there’s a new wrinkle in ballot initiative politics. Last year’s $6 million campaign by Restore Washington and Let’s Go Washington to qualify six initiatives for the ballot appears to have created a new paradigm for this kind of populist campaign. The BIAW-led coalition is tapping into that approach, which involves both paid signature gatherers and an extensive network of volunteer petitioners. They tell us they’ve collected 70,000 signatures so far and hope to qualify with a budget of about $1.2 million. (Paul Queary)

National teachers’ union throws in big to defend capital gains tax

The National Education Association, the parent union of the powerful teachers’ union in Washington State, has given $500,000 to the campaign defending the capital gains tax from a repeal initiative headed for the ballot this fall. 

The NEA is the umbrella organization for the Washington Education Association, one of the biggest players in Washington politics in terms of money and manpower. The capital gains tax, which levies a 7% tax on most gains above $250,000, is a signature legislative achievement of the WEA.² The money was associated with big spending increases on child care and early learning. The tax itself, which is targeted at the very wealthy, is designed as a first step in revamping a tax system that falls lightly on the rich and heavily on the poor. 

Initiative 2109 was one of a suite of six conservative measures qualified for the ballot by Restore Washington and Let’s Go Washington last year. Three of those measures were approved by the Legislature earlier this year, in part to keep the popular proposals off the ballot in November. 

The NEA is the largest donor to the no campaign by far, followed by the Washington Federation of State Employees and the SEIU Initiative Fund, two other major players in public-sector labor. No On 2109 has raised about $1 million raised so far. Let’s Go Washington, which is campaigning for all three remaining initiatives, has raised roughly the same amount.  

Polling on the measures conducted for the opposition indicates a level of support for repealing the capital gains tax that would be too soft to withstand a concerted campaign against it. However, neither campaign currently has anything resembling the kind of money necessary to run a statewide campaign, especially amid the noise of a presidential election and a hot race for governor. Expect more big checks in the weeks and months ahead. (Paul Queary)

Recommended Reading

Claire Withycombe of The Seattle Times breaks down a legal challenge to the potentially game-changing new requirement that ballot initiatives carry a warning about their budgetary implications. Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh’s lawsuit argues that initiatives to repeal the Climate Commitment Act and weaken the state’s long-term care insurance system don’t qualify for the requirement because they don’t technically impose taxes or fees.

The lawsuit also claims repealing the capital gains tax won’t hit the state’s bottom line because lawmakers adopted a separate initiative earlier this year barring a state income tax. The Supremes have already ruled that the capital gains tax isn’t an income tax. There’s a hearing on the case on Friday in Thurston County Superior Court.

Laurel Demkovich over at the Washington State Standard rounds up the most interesting of the hundreds of new laws that take effect on Thursday, which happens to be 90 days after the Legislature adjourned. The laws taking effect range from the consequential—lawmakers restored police authority to chase criminal suspects fleeing in vehicles—to the symbolic—outlawing octopus farming, something that isn’t happening. 


  1. Conflict of Interest Disclaimer: This topic is sort of a festival of conflict for us. Puget Sound Energy, the Realtors, and the Hospitality Association are all sponsors of our annual Re-Wire Policy Conference, which is one of the ways we pay the bills around here. We welcome their support and the occasional awkward footnote it requires.
  2. The sale of long-term holdings of stock, bonds, and business interests above $250,000 are subject to the tax. Real estate transactions, the most common form of capital gain for most folks, are exempt, in part because the Realtors have juice in Olympia and also because such transactions are subject to a separate excise tax. 

These stories first appeared in the author’s political website, The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


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