Backers Collect Plenty Of Names For Initiative 601 -- Spending Limits Pick Up Steam

OLYMPIA - Critics of government spending gained a second round of ammunition for their tax revolt yesterday as backers of a state spending-limit initiative submitted enough voter signatures to win a place on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"We did it! We did it!" cried state Sen. Linda Smith, R-Hazel Dell, hugging Initiative 601 backers who rallied on the Capitol steps before submitting 250,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office.

A day earlier, a larger crowd helped celebrate the success of a competing initiative, tax-rollback Initiative 602, in gathering enough signatures to cinch a place on the statewide ballot. Sponsors delivered 15,000 more signatures for I-602 late yesterday, bringing their tally to 442,000.

Since only 180,000 valid signatures are required, checking the petitions will be just a formality.

I-602, in addition to forcing the Legislature to rewrite the 1993-95 budget and gutting funding for the state's landmark health-care reform act, requires a 60 percent vote of the Legislature for new taxes. It also limits government spending to a percentage of personal income in the state.

I-601 does not repeal existing taxes, but it would change the rules more dramatically in the long run, restraining growth in the state budget to the rate of inflation and population growth. Any new tax would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Any new tax above the spending limit would require a vote.

The third and final successful initiative drive also was mounted by conservative forces. Sponsors of the "Three Strikes, You're Out" plan to lock up some three-time felons for life brought in another 40,000 signatures late yesterday, bringing their total to 289,000.

Yesterday was the deadline to submit initiative petitions. Three out of 12 proposals will make the ballot.

The unsuccessful crop included legalization of marijuana, prohibiting "happy hours" in bars, allowing unrestricted use of wood stoves, adopting more stringent term limits for public officials and requiring high-school students to maintain a 3.0 grade point average in order to get and keep a driver's license.

Sponsors of Initiative 601 wryly credited liberal Gov. Mike Lowry, an outspoken foe, for their success.

"When Mike started traveling around the state and speaking out against the initiatives and saying that people had elected him to raise taxes, he started dropping in the polls . . . and people started getting mad," Smith said.

The governor's staff said he intends to continue criticizing both measures as threatening basic state services, particularly higher education.