NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 2, 2009

This November, voters in the city of Spokane will vote on a Community Bill of Rights ballot measure.  The measure, promoted by a community action group called "Envision Spokane," seeks to amend the Spokane City Charter to either expand current entitlement programs or institute new ones, says the Washington Policy Center (WPC).

The measure would codify rights for various entities.  Also referred to as the "Spokane Community Bill of Rights," the measure is a first of its kind in the United States.  The aim is to use government authority to guarantee the legal right of every citizen to a sustainable and locally-based economy, affordable preventative medical care, affordable housing, and affordable and renewable energy.  The bill would also assign legal rights to the natural environment and to neighborhoods so that communities could determine their own futures.  The proposal would direct how workers would be paid, how many apprentices must be employed, and that union rights are mandatory in the workplace.

Key findings of the WPC:

  • The Community Bill of Rights will expand government entitlement programs, not individual rights.
  • Taxpayers could be on the hook to pay for proposed programs that have no funding mechanism in place.
  • The broad policy agenda is not affordable under the city's current budget.
  • The measure will likely face scrutiny in courts under the state's "single subject law."

The Community Bill of Rights contains many contradictory provisions which will conflict with each other if fully implemented, says the WPC.  For example:

  • Using hydro-power would contradict the right of rivers to flow freely.
  • Development of affordable housing could contradict the rights of Neighborhood Councils to determine their own futures.
  • Mandating prevailing wage rates on construction projects that are publicly subsidized could contradict with providing affordable housing.
  • More stringent environmental regulations could also conflict with development of affordable housing.

Supporters of the Amendments argue that their proposal would spur economic development through a healthier, happier and more sustainable community.  However, many of these provisions are aimed directly at curtailing the rights of business owners and developers within the City of Spokane.  Placing further regulations and complications on businesses would either drive up prices, as supplies become constricted, or cause businesses and their jobs to relocate to outside the city limits or in Idaho.  That would deprive the city even further of the necessary tax revenue it needs to carry out the proposed services. 

Unlike private developers and contractors, who can take their business to another city, city officials cannot escape the cost of such stringent legal requirements.  Taxpayers, however, are less likely to move to escape a higher tax burden and would be on the hook to pay for increased costs to the city, says the WPC.

Source: Abby Burlingame and Carl Gipson, "Citizens' Guide to Proposition 4 in Spokane: The Community Bill of Rights," Washington Policy Center, September 2009.


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