Voting In The Dark On Initiatives 601 And 602

THE state attorney general's office opinion on the irreconcilable conflicts between Initiative 601 and Initiative 602 should give supporters of the two measures pause. Even if supporters of the tax revolt win, they lose.

Current law provides no way to determine which initiative would govern if both pass. Instead, legislators or judges will get to decide what applies and what doesn't, not the voters.

The conflicts are clear. The two initiatives, both designed to limit tax increases and state spending, differ drastically on how the limits are set, on new reserve fund requirements, and on procedures that would allow the Legislature to bypass the limits.

Ordinarily, courts try to harmonize conflicts in statutes that deal with the same subject matter. In cases where the conflict can't be harmonized, the rule is to choose the statute that was enacted last.

Since the conflicts of 601 and 602 would be enacted simultaneously, traditional approaches to statutory reading don't apply. There is no way voters can predict what will happen with the initiatives before the election.

If both pass, the Legislature could amend one or both of the measures. But since state law allows amendments to initiatives in the first two years after passage only with a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, the prospect of a legislative remedy is small. Instead, the whole mess very likely will end up in court. Since this legal problem has not arisen in Washington before, judges will be making up totally new law.

The possibilities are numerous. The court could take pieces of both initiatives and cobble them together into something new, throw out all conflicting provisions, or decide to go with the initiative that got the most votes. In any case, it's out of voters' hands.

Trying to rewrite the state's budgetary authority by initiative is bound to cause unanticipated harm. The fact that voters won't know what they'll be voting for is another good reason to reject 601 and 602 at the ballot box.