OLYMPIA — Critics of Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax measure asked Washington’s Supreme Court on Thursday to block Initiative 960 from the ballot, arguing that it illegally tries to alter the state constitution.
Several justices, however, seemed reluctant to grant that request, pointing to the court’s record of avoiding pre-election challenges to ballot measures.
The justices’ skeptical questions prompted Eyman to all but declare victory after Thursday’s unusual special hearing.
“I was just ear-to-ear grinning,” the Mukilteo ballot-box activist said outside the courtroom. “This is fun.”
The court quickly said it planned to issue a ruling on the case Friday. The state says questions about I-960’s status are putting pressure on elections officials preparing ballots for this fall’s election.
Environmental group Futurewise and the Service Employees International Union are trying to stop I-960 from going to voters this fall.
The initiative reasserts and broadens the requirement imposed by voters in 1993’s Initiative 601 for a two-thirds supermajority for taxes adopted in Olympia.
It also adds a variety of impact statements and broader public information on all tax plans. It could result in more public votes on taxes.
Futurewise and the SEIU argue that Eyman’s measure violates state law by trying to make constitutional changes not allowed through the initiative process.
The Supreme Court has previously shown a staunch attitude against considering the constitutionality of ballot measures before the election.
Several justices reiterated that stance Thursday.
“It seems to me that we are in a better position as a judicial body to make this ruling after the election,” Justice Tom Chambers said.
But Knoll Lowney, the plaintiffs’ attorney, noted that justices have said they would consider whether an initiative reaches outside its legal boundaries.
“This is an abuse of the initiative process,” Lowney told the court. “It’s obviously unconstitutional, but that’s not the question.”
Secretary of State Sam Reed, Washington’s top elections official, is arguing that I-960 should proceed to a statewide vote in November.
If the court blocks I-960, it could “open the floodgates” to similar ballot-measure challenges, Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Even told the court Thursday.
Even also said the plaintiffs’ allegations about I-960’s scope are indistinguishable from arguments that the measure itself is unconstitutional something the court doesn’t usually touch before voters have their say.