Tim Eyman’s latest offering to voters is a lot like the one he successfully passed two years ago, but with a much higher official price tag.
The difference has prompted Eyman to sue state government.
Initiative 1185, on the Nov. 6 ballot, requires two-thirds majorities in the Legislature to raise taxes. It also requires the elected Legislature, not appointed officials, to approve state fees, including tolls on the Tacoma Narrows bridge and elsewhere.
Initiative 1053 did all that in 2010, and was declared to have no direct cost to government. That was the verdict of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Office of Financial Management, the arbiter of initiatives’ budget impact whose estimates appear in the state voters’ pamphlet.
But this time around, OFM says I-1185 will reduce state toll revenue by as much as $33 million.
What changed? Attorney General Rob McKenna‘s office weighed in. His attorneys, giving legal advice soon after I-1053 passed in response to inquiries from Eyman’s allies, said lawmakers could continue delegating their power to set fees, but would have to do it through new votes. I-1053 had essentially “reset” fee-setting power.
Lawmakers soon took those votes. For example, they returned power to the Transportation Commission to raise tolls on Narrows drivers, which it did last spring, and to toll the tunnel being built to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
OFM’s Julie Murray, who worked on the budget-impact statements, said I-1185 would presumably have the same “reset” effect. McKenna’s staff advised her that’s “a reasonable assumption,” she said.
“In a way, it kind of repeals those authorizations” to charge or raise tolls, she said. “You have to get new authorizations.”
The office couldn’t quantify the effect for most fees, but for the viaduct, it said state revenue would likely be reduced by $22.8 million to $33.1 million if the Legislature doesn’t act.
Eyman worries the big cost could turn off some voters.
He says since I-1185 mostly repeats I-1053, it doesn’t make big substantive changes as that law did – so it shouldn’t be seen as another “reset.”
Some voters might wonder why he’s pushing to restate the status quo. Essentially, it’s to keep current law Olympia-proof. Initiatives are nearly off-limits for two years after they pass, with supermajorities in the Legislature required to change them. After the two-year mark, lawmakers can amend them with a simple majority.
Eyman asked a Thurston County Superior Court judge to make OFM rewrite the statement. He said a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.
All this comes as Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office is trying to create and print voters’ pamphlets and get them out in time for voting.
It’s not the first time Eyman has gone to court with state officials. But he said it’s his first time acting as his own lawyer. Attorneys who have represented him in the past weren’t available, he said.
He seemed excited about the chance to bring his showmanship to a courtroom.
“All the years I watched “L.A. Law” and “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” he joked, “my God, who needs law school?”jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @Jordan_Schrader