Opponents of Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax ballot measure filed a lawsuit Thursday, alleging that the initiative promoter’s new proposal is unconstitutional.
If passed by Washington’s voters in November, Eyman’s proposal — Initiative 1366 — would require the Legislature to send a constitutional measure to the voters in 2016 require all tax increases to have a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate for enactment. If the lawmakers do not send such a referendum to the public for a vote, I-1366 would require that the state sales tax be trimmed by one cent from its current 6.5 cents per dollar.
A penny sales tax cut would trim $1.4 billion a year from the state’s revenue — cutting $2.8 billion per budget biennium, according to state Office of Financial Management estimates.
“Initiative 1366 is blackmail,” said Eden Mack, a plaintiff (disclosure: Mack is also a member of a Crosscut Ambassadors group).
“We would end up with a blowout of the budget,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, who is another plaintiff. The plaintiffs are several individual citizens, plus Frockt; Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle; Sherrill Huff, King County director of elections; and Mary Hall, Thurston County auditor.
Eyman responded in a press release, “If you can't win a vote, you try to cancel it or block it. Politicians clearly believe that voters overwhelmingly support I-1366's taxpayer protection policies and that's why they desperately want to take away the people's right to vote on it.”
Eyman recently turned in roughly 340,000 signatures to Washington’s Secretary of State to put I-1366 on November’s ballot. On Wednesday, the secretary’s office confirmed that the required target of 245,372 valid signatures has been met.
On Thursday, an Elway Poll of 502 voters statewide was released, showing 49 percent supported I-1366, 36 percent opposed it and 15 percent were undecided. In the past, Washington voters passed five straight initiatives supporting the two-thirds majority threshold, but did not address the state constitution. In 2013, the Washington Supreme Court found that the two-thirds majority threshold is unconstitutional, prompting Eyman to look for ways to amend the constitution.
So far, the I-1366 campaign has raised $1.715 million and has spent $1.345 million, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission files. Eyman’s biggest contributors are Vancouver real estate developer Clyde Holland at $540,000, prominent Bellevue businessman Kemper Freeman Jr. at $100,000 and the National Electrical Contractors Association at $100,000.
The plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Lawrence of Seattle said their legal arguments are that Article 2 of the state constitution allows initiatives to propose bills, but not to proposed constitutional amendments. He added that the constitution’s Article 23 says that only the Legislature can propose a constitutional amendment from scratch.
Also, I-1366 could be challenged as having two subjects within one initiative, which would be illegal, Lawrence said. However, he said the two-subject issue can be legally raised only after an initiative passes.
Eyman and his allies produced a July 8 legal analysis by Bellevue attorney Richard Stephens that concluded a constitutional amendment can be started by an initiative to the Legislature, and that I-1366 does not violate the two-subject rule.
Frockt pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that the state is not adequately funding basic education, with the court threatening sanctions this year because the state has not raised enough money to meet the 2012 court obligations. Frockt also noted the Supreme Court is demanding that the state pay billions of dollars more for education, while I-1366’s passage would remove billions of dollars from the state’s coffers. He argued that all this could lead to massive cuts in health and social services.