I-695 may be history, but effects will linger

By HUNTER T. GEORGE

EAssociated Press

OLYMPIA — Initiative 695 may be dead in the eyes of the Washington Supreme Court, but its effect will be felt for years — legally, politically and financially.

The court, in a decision released Thursday, voted 8-1 to affirm a trial judge’s decision to strike down I-695 as unconstitutional because it was not properly presented to voters and because it disrupted the balance of power between citizens and legislators.

But half of the measure, elimination of the progressive tax on automobile license tabs in exchange for a flat $30 annual fee, has been put into law by legislators and a governor eager to please frustrated voters.

And initiative sponsor Tim Eyman has pledged to file a new proposal next year that would contain the other half of I-695, a requirement that future tax increases be approved by voters.

Eyman said voters who are tired of rising taxes mustn’t let up.

"They (voters) saw we had an impact when they got their $30 tabs," he said. "We understood this would be a long battle, and not something you can win in one round."

Indeed, the spirit of I-695 lives on in I-722, the so-called "Son of 695" that is one of two Eyman measures on the Nov. 7 ballot. I-722 would require governments to repeal any tax increases imposed during the second half of 1999 and limit future property tax increases to 2 percent.

Secretary of State Ralph Munro, a Republican, said voters may be experiencing "initiative fatigue" and may vote down many of the six measures on this year’s ballot.

In addition, critics have noted that I-722 also appears to contain two subjects, which was one of the reasons I-695 was ruled unconstitutional.

Eyman dismissed the naysayers.

"We feel very comfortable with the language of 722," he said. "We feel the only way for voters to get any proper tax relief is to vote yes on 722."

Munro, who has lamented the decline of true citizen-based initiatives amid the rise of special interests, praised the Supreme Court decision for spelling out the do’s and don’ts of initiative-writing.

"I think it’s really a landmark case," he said. "Anybody who writes an initiative in the future and doesn’t read this opinion is nuts."

I-695 will continue to have political repercussions.

Despite Eyman’s doubts, Gov. Gary Locke predicted that proposals for major tax increases will be forwarded to voters. The governor already has said he expects that voters will be asked to sign off next year on an upcoming funding package designed to reduce traffic congestion.

Republicans seeking to regain control of the evenly divided state House of Representatives promised to make voter approval of tax increases an issue in the 2001 session that begins in January.

House Co-Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, said the Supreme Court’s decision to quash the requirement for voter approval of tax and fee increases will only fuel rising voter discontent.

"I think it’s like you took 100 gallons of gasoline and poured it on an open fire," he said. "The public is revolting, and some of our elected officials simply don’t get it."

He outlined a GOP proposal to let local governments raise taxes and begin collecting the revenues as long as any increases go before voters at the next general election.

I-695 also will continue to have an economic impact.

The elimination of the automobile tax knocked out $750 million in annual tax revenues and resulted in painful budget cuts.

But the Legislature only provided temporary funding for some programs, so the full impact is expected to surface during the two-year budget cycle that begins next summer.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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