Ballot items good and bad

There is a very simple way to make government more honest. Let the people running it know they're being watched.

That will happen if Initiative 960 passes in November. It responds to three cynical trends that have grown like thistles in Olympia.

Trend one is to get around a popular law from 1993, Initiative 601, which limits spending increases to the growth of inflation plus population, and requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for tax increases. It worked. Government spending has grown at half the rate since its passage than in the decade before. But the Legislature has gotten around the spending limit by moving money "off budget" - a "shell game" in the words of a State Supreme Court justice.

The second trend is the abuse of the "emergency clause" that prevents bills from being challenged by the referendum process. That clause is only supposed to be used when the law "may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety." But nearly one in seven bills signed into law by Gov. Gregoire carried this "emergency" addendum, including a measure creating canola seed production districts. Most famously, it was used to prevent the public from challenging a new state law creating a sports stadium in the mid-90s.

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