Politics & Government

Eyman loses I-1185 argument in court

Tim Eyman tried his hand as a lawyer in court today and pretty much lost his shorts. A Thurston County judge threw out Eyman’s claim that the Office of Financial Management needs to change its estimate of taxpayer costs for Initiative 1185 in the voters pamphlet.

I-1185 – which seeks to reassert a two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax hikes and a simple majority vote requirement for all fee increases – is one of a half-dozen measures on the ballot Nov. 6. Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled that OFM has discretion under the law and that the legal tests were not met for him to order a revision of the statement for the voter pamphlet.

“For that reason this petition simply fails, or must be denied as a matter of law,’’ Dixon said flatly. His order is here.

Eyman argued there is no cost and contended the OFM claims – that as much as $33 million in toll revenue could be lost because the I-1185 removes the right of the Transportation Commission to set tolls – were reckless. He contended that the state should have reused its fiscal-impact statement for I-1053 from 2010, which he said is the same as his new proposal.

But OFM has cited attorney general opinions and said the new measure would “re-set” the legislative vote requirement – or delegation of authority – for toll rates on state highways. So there would be a fiscal impact – although lawmakers could remedy it with a simple vote.

In rejecting Eyman’s arguments, Dixon said he appreciated Eyman’s “impassioned” appearance. He said that after looking at Eyman’s complaint and delving into the case further he found a seemingly dry matter became interesting to him.

What it all means now is the Office of the Secretary of State can move ahead with printing voter pamphlets which include fiscal impact statements from OFM on ballot measures. And it means that Eyman, who is sponsor of I-1185 and its two-thirds vote requirement for Legislature-imposed tax increases, can get back to campaigning.

I-1185's committee has raised $1.3 million and spent $1.2 million of it just getting the measure onto the ballot. Major donations came chiefly from a group of special interests that want to block the chance of any new taxes – including $400,000 from the Beer Institute in Washington, D.C., $110,000 from BP Oil in Chicago, $100,000 from Conoco Phillips in Washington, D.C., $50,000 from the Washington Restaurant Association, $45,500 from the Association of Washington Business and $20,000 from the Washington Farm Bureau.

Opponents’ campaign committee, which is chaired by former state transportation secretary Douglas MacDonald, has raised just $25,000, all of it from the Service Employees International Union’s state council.

In a move that might help opponents, a left-leaning think tank issued a report yesterday that contends that Eyman’s previous two-thirds vote measure (I-1053) has cost the state more than 18,000 public sector and non-profit-sector jobs, which it said is slowing the economic recovery.

Eyman always loves a camera and he seemed to enjoy his new role, pretending to be a lawyer – even dressing up in suit, shirt and tie and invoking Winston Churchill’s observations in some of showman-like but perhaps bombastic flourishes.

Yet the whole initiative may be moot. The two-thirds requirement for taxes is already law in I-1053, but a King County judge has ruled that the restriction on the Legislature is unconstitutional. An appeal is headed to the state Supreme Court this fall.

Assistant attorney general Steve Dietrich handled the case for the state, and this post has links to legal briefs prepared by Dietrich and Eyman on the issue. In court, Dietrich said Eyman was basically making a political argument, which he said is fair enough to do, but that the case came down to the discretion of OFM, which Eyman himself admitted it had.

“When he makes that concession that essentially is the end of this case,’’ Dietrich told the judge.

Despite the open and shut case, Dietrich was gracious, telling Eyman that he’d done a good job.