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Lawsuit challenging warning labels on WA initiatives in court this week

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(The Center Square) – Backers of a lawsuit challenging Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s plan to put “warning labels” on initiatives to the ballot, will get a court hearing this week.

Supporters of the legal challenge argue the attorney general is misreading the law and that he has no right to inject himself into the election.

The law, passed by legislative Democrats in 2022, requires the AG to write a fiscal impact statement of up to 15 words for the state voters’ pamphlet, in cases where an initiative might affect state tax collections.

Rep Mia Gregerson, D-Seatac, sponsored the legislation.

“I think this bill improves transparency by adding a description of the fiscal impact of these measures on revenue,” said Gregerson during a January 2022 public hearing of the House Government and Tribal Relations Committee.

“In this Washington, we’re about making voting processes more simple and the standards more clear. In a time of rhetoric and false promises, I’m for anything that brings us back to shared understanding and common ground,” said Gregerson.

The three measures on the November ballot would overturn the state’s new cap-and-trade program, repeal the state’s new income tax on capital gains and allow workers to opt-out of the WA Cares long term payroll tax.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson maintains the warning-label law gives him the right to declare whether they are hazardous to the state’s fiscal health.

WA GOP Chairman Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, sees it differently. He is behind the lawsuit.

“It’s designed entirely to derail the people’s initiatives by spinning editorialized comments from the partisan Office of Financial Management and the AG’s office,” he said. “This is partisan spin, it’s not good public policy.” The suit was filed by Walsh, and Deanna Martinez, chair of Mainstream Republicans of Washington.

Walsh says Ferguson has contradicted himself when it comes to when the law about fiscal impact statements should apply.

“The current AG is too clever by half and has jammed himself up,” he said. “They made points to say that the financial impacts of these bad policies were not taxes when they were supporting them. If they’re not taxes, there’s no reason for one of these impact statements.”

He is hoping the judge will move quickly with a decision.

“If they allow these partisan politicians to poison the voter pamphlets with their spin, there will be serious damage done to the people of Washington,” Walsh said.

The lawsuit names Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs as lead defendant in the case and seeks a writ prohibiting him from certifying or publishing any statement about the initiatives in the voters’ pamphlet.

Ferguson is also named as a defendant, along with David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, which is responsible for producing fiscal estimates.

The three ballot measures involved are:

-Initiative 2117, overturning Washington’s cap-and-trade program, which critics say is responsible for adding about 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas.

-Initiative 2124, allowing Washington workers to withdraw from a new insurance program for long-term care.

-Initiative 2109, repealing Washington’s new income tax on capital gains.

The hearing on the lawsuit is set for June 7 in Thurston County Superior Court.

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