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Faith community advocates discuss ballot issues

Believing that people of faith have an obligation to be involved in political processes, in campaigns, in voting and in influencing policies, Scott Cooper of Parish Social Services at Catholic Charities joined with Beth Poteet of the Interfaith Council in reviewing initiatives and a referendum on the November ballot.

In six training sessions in Spokane, Cheney, Colville and Pullman, they are presenting research and recommendations of the Washington Association of Churches (WAC), the Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) and the Lutheran Public Policy Office (LPPO).

Cooper and Poteet
Scott Cooper and Beth Poteet

“We need to take our values into the public arena by voting and by working with public officials after they are elected to express those values and bring them to bear on policies of the state,” Scott said.

Each presented information on the initiatives and referendum before voters and discussed implications.  The WAC, the WSCC and the LPPO agree on some issues, diverge on some and have mixed concerns about others.

Initiative 297 calls for cleaning up the waste already at Hanford before adding new waste.  It arises because the Department of Energy planned to cut $1 billion from cleanup and to double the amount of radioactive waste stored there.

It calls for treating waste in high level storage tanks that have leaked waste into the groundwater that is flowing into the Columbia River.  It also says there will be no new waste in unlined soil ditches and that there will be a commitment to maintain public oversight of the cleanup process,” Beth said.

The WAC and LPPO support it, and the WSCC has taken no position, she said.
“Our faith calls us to care for creation, so we need to clean up toxic materials,” Beth said.

Initiative 872 would establish a “top two” primary system, like the one in Louisiana, to replace Washington’s current “open, private choice” system, modeled on Montana’s primary.

“The more the system encourages participating and voting, the better it is,” Scott said.  “The current system consolidates power in the two major parties.  The ‘top two’ system offers voters a chance to select among all candidates regardless of party affiliation, so both of the top two could be from the same party.”

He said another initiative (318) is in the works to have an “instant runoff primary” in which voters give their first, second and third choices.

Initiative 884 is a corrective to Initiative 728, establishing lower class sizes, and Initiative 732, raising teachers’ salaries.

The problem is that neither initiative established a funding mechanism.  The faith community has been concerned that funds would come from social services,” Scott said.  “Because of the recession, the state faced a $2.9 billion shortfall, so the legislature decided to delay implementation of those initiatives.”

The League of Education Voters, which sponsored initiatives 728 and 732, developed Initiative 884, proposing the state raise its part of the sales tax from 6.5 to 7.5 percent, to generate $1 billion annually to go into a new state Education Trust Fund.  It would lower class sizes and would increase K-12 teacher salaries, higher education enrollment and scholarships, and preschool openings for low-income children.

Scott said a family earning $20,000 would have an annual $93 increase in sales tax, and a one earning $60,000, about $260.

The WSCC questions setting aside a portion of sales taxes, taking it out of the general fund. 

“While the WSCC supports lower class sizes and raising teachers pay, they oppose raising the sales tax, which would compound our regressive tax system.  In addition, in economic downturns, less money would be generated,” Scott said. 

Initiative 892 would authorize electronic scratch tickets in non-tribal businesses—such as bowling alleys, restaurants and bingo halls—for state property tax reduction.  Net earnings would be taxed 35 percent, and one percent of earnings would go to address problems of gambling.

Beth said that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act says that only tribes can operate certain gaming.  Expanding to other businesses would mean there would be 18,000 slot machines in 2,000 locations.  Tax relief on a $75,000 home would be $9.75, and on a $200,000 home, $26.

Opponents anticipate that it would reduce revenue to the state lottery—used for school construction—by $33 million, she said.

The faith community considers taxing gambling regressive—lower income people lose a higher percent of their incomes.    Faith communities also oppose it because it breaks treaties establishing tribal rights to gambling,” Beth said.

Referendum 55 was passed by the legislature but held up by the Washington Education Association.  It would create 45 charter schools in Washington, run by private, nonprofit groups, and supervised by school districts.

Charter schools are independent public schools, but exempt from some state and federal rules, Scott said.  State dollars follow students to these schools, which cannot be religiously affiliated.

“Most charter schools are for low-achieving students with learning disabilities or at risk of failure,” Scott said.

The WAC opposes it, he said, because it detracts from “a strong public education system.”  The WSCC supports the concept of giving parents more choices but finds no “strong moral component” related to it.

In discussion, some of the 25 at the session at Country Homes Christian Church in Spokane said the performance of charter schools is mixed and voters have turned down two other charter school initiatives.  Some expressed concern that public school superintendents are to supervise charter schools, which operate under looser rules.

There are many perspectives to these issues,” Scott said in conclusion.  “Some of the proposals raise more questions than answers.”

Other Initiative Education Forums will be held at 7 p.m., Oct. 5, at the Veradale United Church of Christ, 611 N. Progress, in Spokane Valley; Oct. 14, at St. Rose of Lima Church, 460 N. Fifth in Cheney; Oct. 19, First Congregational United Church of Christ, 205 N. Maple in Colville, and Oct. 21, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 440 NE Ash in Pullman.  There was also one on Sept. 28 at Unity Church in Spokane.

The Interfaith Council has scheduled events to hear candidates, address domestic violence, develop peacemaking teams and celebrate Thanksgiving.

• It is collaborating with the Children’s Alliance, VOICES, Spokane citizens for a Living Wage, the League of Women Voters and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane to present a Candidate Forum, “We’re All in This Together:  Are Our Candidates on the Same Page?” from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 7, at Salem Lutheran Church, 1428 W. Broadway in Spokane. 

Candidates for the third and sixth legislative districts, and from the fifth congressional district will present their positions on hunger, health care, housing, fair wages and other issues of economic justice.  Forums for other districts are being arranged.

• On Oct. 5, the Council sponsored “Creating the Circle of Caring: Faith Communities Working to End Intimate Partner Violence,” with a program presenting the survivor’s perspective and a panel discussing the power of faith to liberate domestic violence victims.

• The weekends of Oct 28 to 30 and Nov. 11 to 13 are Camp PEACE training events, networking high schools, universities, citizens and agencies to train youth to be leaders in developing respect and peace as part of peacemaking teams in their schools.

• The Interfaith Thanksgiving Service is set for 10 a.m., Thanksgiving day at Central United Methodist Church in Spokane.

• The Council’s World Day of Peace Celebration and Dinner drew about 300 people on Sept. 21.  It featured West African, Ugandan, Hmong and Middle Eastern music and dances, uplifting the area’s cultural diversity.

“People who live the spiritual path have a responsibility to model peace and to care about Sudan, Iraq and other areas of conflict,” said council director Kateri Caron. 

The celebration of World Peace Day, she said, was in solidarity with people around the world “gathering in silent vigils, eating, dancing, praying and expressing their desire for peace in the world, their nations, their cities, their families and their hearts.”

For information, call 329-1410.

By Mary Stamp - Copyright © October 2004 - The Fig Tree