4 cities file suit to stop I-722 from taking effect


Associated Press

OLYMPIA – The ink on the ballots is barely dry, but the cities of Seattle, Burien, Pasco and Carnation have already filed a lawsuit to stop tax-rollback Initiative 722 from taking effect.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court, asks for an injunction and argues that I-722 is unconstitutional.

I-722 passed Tuesday night with 57 percent of the vote. Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

The brainchild of Mukilteo activist Tim Eyman, I-722 rolls back some 1999 tax increases and limits property-tax growth. It is Eyman’s follow-up to last year’s tax-cutting I-695, which succeeded at the polls but was recently thrown out by the Washington Supreme Court.

State budget analysts have pegged the I-722 revenue loss to state and local programs – and the savings to property owners – at $376 million during the two-year budget cycle that begins next summer.

For Burien, the initiative means the city would have to refund more than $400,000 in taxes and fees.

“While the council respects the sentiment behind I-722, the citizens of Burien repeatedly have expressed a need for services, such as police and street maintenance, that we must meet,” Burien Mayor Sally Nelson said in a news release. “We are not a rich city. A revenue loss of this magnitude could have grave effects on our ability to provide these services.”

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell discussed the lawsuit with the City Council as he reviewed with them the budget cuts that I-722 would require.

“I believe I-722 is unconstitutional in several areas, not the least of which is the part that moves the burden of taxation from those with rapidly appreciating properties to those with stable property values,” Schell said.

I-722 rolls back and rebates all state and local tax and fee increases that were adopted without voter approval after July 2, 1999.

The measure also limits property-tax growth to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, using the January 1999 values as the baseline. The current limit is 6 percent, not counting voter-approved special levies.

The first complaint in the lawsuit is about the very thing that led the courts to declare I-695 unconstitutional – the single subject rule. The state constitution says initiatives must address only one subject. The cities say I-722 takes on three: repealing taxes, exempting cars from property taxes, and new property tax rates.

The cities were joined in the lawsuit by Seattle property owner William P. Mallow and Southwest Youth and Family Services, which receives half its funding from the city of Seattle and expects its budget to be slashed if I-722 takes effect.

The state attorney general’s office defends all Washington state laws, whether passed by the Legislature or the people.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise,” said Gary Larson, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “The job of the attorney general is to defend this and other laws, so we’ll be doing that.”

Thurston County courts were closed today, so the soonest a hearing could be scheduled would be next week.

Eyman has predicted I-722 will stand up in court, and he reacted angrily to the lawsuit.

“It is simply obscene that elected officials would use taxpayer dollars to sue the taxpayers because they don’t like what the taxpayers wanted,” he said. “We view this very much as an abuse of power.”

Eyman said he thinks elected officials have a “moral responsibility” to implement policies that voters approve.

“Last year, they argued the voters didn’t know what they voted for when they voted for (Initiative) 695, and now I guess they’re saying that the voters didn’t know what they were voting for two years in a row,” he said.

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