Sparring on WA initiatives begins as signature-gathering continues

Measures to repeal capital gains tax and carbon pricing program are popular, sponsors say. Polling conducted earlier this month found otherwise, foes counter.

By: - October 20, 2023 4:35 pm

Signature gathering is under way in Washington for six Republican-crafted initiatives that target recent laws passed by Democrats including those creating the cap-and-invest program and capital gains tax. Deadline to turn in signatures is Dec. 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Let’s Go Washington)

Brian Heywood didn’t bristle Friday on hearing initiatives he’s bankrolling with his own millions came up big losers in polling carried out by opponents of the measures.

The conservative hedge fund manager laughed.

“I hope they believe their polls with their entire souls,” he said.

Heywood has provided $5 million for signature-gathering for six initiatives. Backers have until the end of the year to turn in what they collect.

Service Employees International Union 775 and Washington Conservation Action paid for polling earlier this month on three of the measures – those seeking to repeal the state’s carbon pricing program, capital gains tax and long term care tax. The two groups considered those the most likely to be in front of voters in November 2024.

Support for each hovered at 40% based solely on a reading of the ballot title. When the likely voters participating in the poll learned of the potential financial impact of each one, opposition grew.

“We wanted to get a sense of how big a threat these initiatives actually pose to the public investments we all care about,” said Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of SEIU 775. 

To succeed, initiatives generally need to start with a level of support around 60% because backing tends to drop rather than climb in the course of a campaign, he said. 

“Campaigns matter. Messaging matters. What this poll shows is that voters’ initial reaction to these initiatives is generally very negative,” he said. “I think that’s useful for us to know. I think that’s useful for anybody considering throwing their good money after Brian Heywood’s bad money.”

Jim Walsh, a state representative and chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, is sponsor of the three measures targeted in the poll. 

“I am happy to see them underestimating the popularity of these proposals,” he said. “I am confident that they are what the people of the state want.”

Walsh said any potential donor whose support “could be scared off is not even in the equation. They’re scared. They’re talking to their base, not our donors.”

Political numerology

To make it on the ballot, petitions containing the signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters must be turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office by 5 p.m. on Dec. 29. Sponsors are encouraged by the agency to submit 405,000 signatures to allow for duplicates and invalid signatures.

All of the proposed measures are initiatives to the Legislature. Any certified to have the requisite signatures will be sent to lawmakers who can adopt it as proposed during the 2024 session. They also can reject or refuse to act on it, in which case it will go on the November 2024 ballot.

A third option allows lawmakers to approve an alternative measure to be placed on the ballot alongside the initiative.

Change Research conducted the SEIU and Washington Conservation Action online poll of 1,206 likely November 2024 voters from Oct. 7 – 11. The poll has a 2.9% margin of error.

All participants read the actual ballot title language for each measure. Half received a second question in which they had both the ballot title and one sentence summing on the potential fiscal impact of the measure.

Initiative 2117 would repeal the legislation establishing the cap-and-invest program. This program caps annual greenhouse gas emissions for major emitters such as oil refiners and utilities, and requires them to obtain allowances for each metric ton of emission. The state has raised $1.4 billion so far from allowance auctions.

In the poll, 40% supported and 34% opposed the measure with the ballot title. Support stayed steady at 41% but opposition grew to 49% when participants heard the measure would reduce funding for carbon emission reduction and air quality improvement programs.

“These results tell us that Washington’s voters support the progress our state has made on addressing planet-warming pollution and conservation,” said Lennon Bronsema, vice president of campaigns for Washington Conservation Action. “They know we can’t afford to go backwards because we don’t have that luxury.”

Initiative 2109, which would repeal the capital gains tax, had 40% support with 46% opposed. Support dipped to 31% and opposition rose to 56% when they learned the initiative would curb funding for education, early learning and school construction. State law requires receipts from this tax be spent in those areas.

Finally, 42% backed Initiative 2124 to retool the rules for the new payroll deduction for long-term care insurance with 24% opposing any changes and 33% undecided. When they learned it would decrease funding for long-term care services, backing dipped to 37% and opposition nearly doubled.

This isn’t the first time Heywood has backed initiatives. Heywood got behind 11 proposed measures in 2022. None qualified for the ballot.

He’s all in this year. He’s put roughly $5 million into the effort funded through the political committee Let’s Go Washington. If that, $4.1 million is getting spent on gathering signatures.

“They did the poll because they are worried. This year [the initiatives] are going to get across the finish line,” he said. “I would say the game is afoot.”

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.