GOP-backed lawsuit could prevent voters from seeing potential fiscal impact of Washington state initiatives


A lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court by the chairs of the Washington state Republican Party and the Mainstream Republicans of Washington could prevent the attorney general from disclosing the potential financial impact of three initiatives on the November ballot.

The suit comes after fiscal statements prepared by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) showed proposals to repeal the state’s capital gains tax and the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) would reduce state revenue by billions, money earmarked for climate projects and public education.

According to Washington GOP Chairman and State Rep. Jim Walsh, a recently enacted law that requires the state attorney general to write a fiscal impact statement for the state voters’ pamphlet does not apply as the initiatives do not expressly target taxes. The lawsuit is set for a hearing on June 7 in Thurston County Superior Court.

Passed by the state Legislature in 2022, the fiscal impact statements were universally opposed by Republican lawmakers, though polling by the Northwest Progressive Institute showed 82% of Washingtononians supported their inclusion.

“Our friends outsmarted themselves,” Walsh said in a statement “They were very specific when they passed the warning-label law. But they were so specific that the law doesn’t apply to any of the initiatives that go before voters this year. The case is so clear-cut I am surprised we have to take this to court.”

Fiscal notes for the three initiatives published by the OFM showed the state would lose billions of dollars in revenue in the coming years if the proposals are successful.

According to OFM, the proposal to repeal the state’s capital gains tax would cut more than $5 billion in state revenue through 2029. The 7% tax, passed by the Legislature in 2021, applies to earnings on bonds and stocks over $250,000 a year. When signing the bill into law, Gov. Jay Inslee estimated that less than 1% of Washingtonians would pay the tax.

The OFM also found that Initiative 2117, which targets the CCA, would cut more than $4.5 billion in state revenue through 2029. A fiscal note for Initiative 2124, which would allow more people to opt out of the state’s long-term care program, shows the proposal would have minimal impact.

Under the new Washington law, Attorney General Bob Ferguson must write a fiscal impact statement of up to 15 words to appear in the voters’ pamphlet.

The suit, however, argues the initiatives are exempt from the statements since the revenues they target are not expressly a tax or fees.

“This ill-conceived law doesn’t allow the attorney general to say a word about these initiatives, because two of these ballot measures aren’t about taxes and fees, and the third has no fiscal impact. Washington voters never asked for Bob Ferguson’s help. Now we need a court to tell him not to interfere,” said Deanna Martinez, chair of Mainstream Republicans of Washington.

The lawsuit lists Ferguson, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs and David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, as defendants, and seeks to prevent the attorney general from certifying or publishing any statement about the initiatives.

“The law should never have been passed in the first place, because it gives one of the most partisan elected officials in Washington state an opportunity to blast away at ballot measures he doesn’t like,” Martinez said. “That’s bad enough. People trust the voters’ pamphlet as an objective source of information. They aren’t expecting a partisan political attack that masquerades as a neutral financial statement."

During the 2024 session, the Legislature passed a trio of initiatives to loosen vehicle pursuit restrictions, establish a parental “bill of rights” and prevent the state from implementing an income tax in the future. The three initiatives will officially take effect Thursday.