Walla Walla County voters won’t be asked to weigh in on the creation of a new state, though it seems many residents have something to say about it.
During a Monday meeting, Walla Walla County commissioners unanimously rejected a request to add an advisory vote to the Nov. 4 ballot on a concept to break 20 counties east of the Cascades away from the rest of Washington and create the nation’s 51st state.
The vote by the three commissioners came one week after a presentation on the matter from Liberty State movement representative Danette Bolyard. Proponents have asked officials in various counties to add a nonbinding advisory vote to their fall ballots to help gauge public support for the idea.
Walla Walla would have been the first county to have added it, had the plan been approved. A previous report that Columbia County commissioners had agreed to add it to their ballot was incorrect. Columbia County commissioners also opted not to make the addition.
News of the discussion on the Walla Walla commissioners’ agenda prompted response from the public ahead of the meeting, Commissioner Jim Johnson noted. Some residents were indignant the discussion would take place.
“As you might expect we received a number of emails that had opinions on this,” he said.
Johnson clarified that while the topic may be a divisive one, the commissioners have a responsibility to hear from all kinds of groups and respectfully and courteously respond to them.
“It’s just not appropriate for commissioners to ignore something that was presented,” he said in the remote meeting.
But it was in the proposal itself where commissioners found too many flaws to justify an advisory vote.
A letter from the Liberty State proponents, including President Jim Robinson, compared Liberty to Idaho and stated the proposed state would produce a similar amount of tax revenue and operating budget. A budget comparison estimated Eastern Washington had about $10 billion in revenue in 2018, while Idaho had about $9.5 billion. Both included federal money given to the states. The estimated expenditures were $9.8 billion for Eastern Washington and $7.9 billion for Idaho.
Johnson said the revenue picture didn’t include grants for local departments and funds that come from other resources.
That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Todd Kimball. If the numbers at the county level aren’t all-inclusive, the bigger scope may be off, too.
Kimball said he also didn’t have info in time for the vote on what the cost would be to even add it to the ballot.
The idea behind the split from Western Washington has long circulated. The letter about the proposal said the concept would divide the state along political and geographic lines.
During Monday’s meeting, Johnson said he disagrees with the belief that Eastern Washington residents don’t have a voice in their state. He said too often apathy and a belief that their votes won’t make a difference keeps some from participating in the process.