Tim Eyman really dislikes taxes, and because of that a lot of Washingtonians really like him. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to be able to make a living as a professional ballot-initiative promoter, and Eyman in the past 15 years or so has done just that by tapping into the psyche of taxpayers.
So it was noteworthy this week when Eyman filed his latest initiative with the state, hoping to land another tax measure on the November ballot. The latest is another attempt to require a two-thirds supermajority in order for the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.
This might sound familiar, as voters passed such a measure in the form of Initiative 960 in 2007, only to have it overridden and repealed by the Legislature in 2010. Voters reinstated the two-thirds requirement by passing I-1053 in 2010, but that was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. And voters again approved the requirement by passing I-1185 with 64 percent of the vote in 2012 (including 70.3 percent in Clark County), but it again was declared unconstitutional.
Now, Eyman is attempting a different tack. His latest initiative would require legislators to place the two-thirds requirement on the ballot -- presumably avoiding the constitutionality problems if the initiative comes out of the Legislature -- and if they don't, the initiative would cut state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent. For taxpayers, that would mean $1 billion a year in tax relief; for the Legislature, it would mean a 6 percent reduction in the state's general fund.
"It's elegant, legal and easy to explain," Eyman said. "Either they let us vote — which costs them nothing — or we get the largest tax cut in Washington state history."
Considering that voters repeatedly have asked for a two-thirds requirement on tax measures, Eyman would appear to have the will of the people behind him in his attempt to make lawmakers an offer they can't refuse. Washington already has slashed state spending, and legislators are faced with adding billions in spending for K-12 education as mandated by the state Supreme Court's decision in the McCleary case. The loss of an additional $1 billion through a cut in the sales tax would not be a viable option.
Eyman's plan still has a long way to go. He needs to collect 246,372 valid voter signatures by July 5 in order to qualify for the November ballot. Then voters need to approve it. And then lawmakers will be forced to choose between sending the two-thirds limitation to voters or settling for a $1 billion reduction in revenue. On top of that is the specter of judicial review. Considering that five of Eyman's measures over the years have been passed by voters but then deemed unconstitutional, that's always a possibility.
Eyman, in his mind, is a crusader for Washington taxpayers. He has spearheaded successful initiatives that have prohibited affirmative action, cut the cost of automobile tags and reduced the size of the King County Council, and he has legions of detractors. As Andrew Villaneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute said: "If he wanted, he could direct his energies towards ending homelessness, cleaning up Puget Sound, or ensuring vulnerable populations like the mentally ill get the care they need. But he'd rather burn than build. Instead of contributing to the betterment of our communities, he seeks their destruction."
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Eyman lights the match and hands it to taxpayers so they can set the fire. Voters repeatedly have demonstrated that they want to make it more difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes. Eyman is more than willing to help.