Eyman’s games costing the taxpayer

Tim Eyman, the Mukilteo resident who often is referred to by the media as the “initiative king” or an “initiative guru,” has earned those monikers more for the frequency of his campaigns than for his batting average.

Of 22 Eyman measures for which signatures were collected since 1999, seven failed to qualify for the ballot, six were voted down by the voters, four were overturned by courts, another four were partially voided by the courts, and one — I-900, which instituted performance audits by the state Auditor’s Office — was passed by the voters and was not challenged in court, according to a tally by Permanent Defense, which frequently opposes Eyman’s measures. Raising his average slightly, two initiatives were overturned in court but later revived by the Legislature.

Eyman’s most recent court failure was for Initiative 1366, which attempted to force the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to raise taxes. Failing to do so would have knocked 1 percentage point off the state sales tax. The state Supreme Court in May declared the initiative unconstitutional because it violated the requirement that initiatives address only one subject.

But recently, scores of other proposed initiatives have died, often by Eyman’s own hand, without seeing the ink from one voter’s signature.

Eyman has taken to filing multiple versions of similar initiatives with the Secretary of State’s Office. Between January and mid-May, Eyman has filed at least 86 initiatives with the state. But 61 of those have either been withdrawn by Eyman or have expired, leaving 25 still active. All, including those still potentially viable, share similar ballot titles and descriptions and differ only by a few words.

This is new for the Secretary of State’s office.

“There has been a big uptick in repetitive initiatives in the last year or two,” said Peter Lavallee, communications director for the state Attorney General’s Office. Eyman isn’t the only frequent filer, Lavallee said, but his name appears most often on the current list of proposed initiatives.

It’s all legal and allowed, Lavallee said, as long as the $5 filing fee is paid. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost associated with the multiple versions of nearly similar initiatives, most of which aren’t intended to survive long enough to gather signatures.

Once initiatives are filed, staff with the Attorney General’s Office must draft a 10-word ballot title, a 30-word ballot description and a 75-word summary of the initiative, wording that must be objective and not appear to favor one side or the other. Once written, the initiative’s sponsors and any potential opponents are allowed to challenge the draft language and request changes.

It’s a process that Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney for Futurewise and Keep Washington Rolling, which opposed one of the measures Eyman filed this year, said is usually collaborative but can be time-consuming and adds cost for those filing iniatives, those fighting them and for those who pay the salaries of the AG’s staff.

But what makes it more costly for all involved is when initiative sponsors fail to notify opponents and the courts when a porposed measure has been withdrawn.

Along with I-1366’s loss in court, Eyman suffered a lesser blow last month when he was sanctioned by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson and fined $600 after withdrawing I-1525, which sought to limit car tabs to $30. A hearing had been scheduled in Wilson’s court regarding a challenge to the proposed initiative at which Iglitzin and others had appeared. Likewise, the judge that morning had spent 90 minutes to two hours reading briefs from each side, only to learn moments before the hearing that Eyman had withdrawn the initiative.

Granted, Eyman is not an attorney, but he’s been around enough courtrooms that he should know such a tactic amounts to bad faith litigation. The judge’s sanction confirms that.

The $600 sanction was symbolic and doesn’t begin to reflect the costs involved for opponents, the court or the Attorney General’s Office and, ultimately, for the taxpayer, who Eyman claims to be watching out for.

If Eyman, for whatever advantage the practice gains him, continues to abuse the system, the initiative guru may soon find himself with fewer followers.

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