Initiative to repeal Healthy Children’s Fund to face legal challenge


Weeks after a Lynden-based political action committee, Washingtonians for a Sound Economy, collected enough signatures to introduce an initiative repealing Prop. 5, passed in 2022 as the “Healthy Children’s Fund” (HCF) tax, onto November ballots, Whatcom County Council voted 4-2 to bring the measure to a judge to determine its legality. Councilmembers Ben Elenbaas and Mark Stremler voted against, and councilmember Tyler Byrd abstained.

During the July 9 county council meeting, some councilmembers argued that since the initiative is aimed at repealing a voter-approved tax, it should instead be classified as a referendum, which would require a much higher signature count to make it onto ballots.

State courts have long determined that a citizen initiative can create a new law or work to better enact existing laws, but a referendum is needed to repeal existing laws, like the HCF. The $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value tax passed in 2022 by just 20 votes, and is expected to raise $100 million by 2032.

Councilmember Todd Donovan, who originally questioned the legality of the repeal initiative in a previous council meeting, said voter trust is at stake with the initiative in question.

“If it goes on the ballot and we vote on it and a court says later, after the fact, that this shouldn’t have happened, that’s a risk in terms of devaluing the meaning of a vote,” Donovan said. “There’s clarity we get from that in asking a judge, ‘Can we go this route?’”

Elenbaas said that the extra hoops to jump through also leads to an erosion of voter trust.

“I feel like democracy is under attack here, I mean, what’s it going to hurt to put this on the ballot? Nothing,” Elenbaas said. “I just think we’re way out of line here. I think this is an attack on democracy and I think that the people did what we’ve asked them to do.”


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