Opponents say Eyman’s new initiative uses blackmail, extortion

OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman is at it again.

The professional initiative promoter from Mukilteo is pushing a ballot measure this fall aimed at making it tougher on state lawmakers to increase taxes. And it contains a twist that could reduce state revenues by billions of dollars in the coming years.

Not surprisingly, opponents are pushing back hard. They contend Eyman’s Initiative 1366 could devastate the state budget and is unconstitutional. They are suing to keep it off the November ballot.

Initiative 1366 would shave a penny off the state’s 6.5-cent sales tax unless a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature to raise taxes without a public vote is put on the ballot next year.

This is not a new idea. Voters have repeatedly approved such a supermajority requirement but the state Supreme Court struck it down in 2013 as unconstitutional. Part of the problem, justices said, is voters can’t amend the Constitution by initiative. Lawmakers are the ones who must amend the Constitution then let voters ratify or reject the change, the court determined.

“The court said you have to do it this way,” Eyman said, in explaining why the measure focuses on getting lawmakers to act. “Clearly a supermajority is what the voters want.”

The initiative gives lawmakers until April 15 to put the supermajority constitutional amendment on the ballot. If they do — and it would require passage by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate — voters will get a say in November 2016. There’s no affect on the state budget.

If lawmakers don’t act, the sales tax would decrease and state coffers would begin to reap fewer revenues. Those losses would total as much $1.7 billion in the current two-year budget and $8 billion through mid-2021, according to a legally required fiscal impact statement by the Office of Financial Management.

Opponents claim the measure is a misuse of the initiative process. They use terms like blackmail and extortion in describing the situation facing lawmakers if they fail to support a constitutional amendment.

Losing billions of dollars would make it nearly impossible for the state to meet a Supreme Court order to fully fund schools in the McCleary case, they said.

“This is the most destructive, mean-spirited initiative that Tim Eyman has ever qualified for the ballot,” said Andrew Villeneuve, founder of Northwest Progressive Institute that is part of a coalition fighting the measure.

Eyman said there’s no threat. Lawmakers have a choice and the measure contains consequences for their decision, he said.

“They can follow whatever path they want to follow,” he said. “I think the vote on 1366 is going to inspire the Legislature to let the people vote on a constitutional amendment.”

The court battle to keep the initiative off the November ballot begins with a hearing Aug. 14 in King County Superior Court.

Opponents claim I-1366’s title — “2/3 Constitutional Amendment” — makes clear the true purpose is to amend the Constitution by initiative, which is illegal under state law.

“If the proponents want a constitutional amendment then they should lobby like everybody else to convince lawmakers this is what they want,” said state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Eyman said the lawsuit “illustrates their desperation.”

“If they thought voters were on their side, they wouldn’t try to block voters from having a say,” Eyman said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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