Judge OKs Eyman tax-limiting initiative for ballot

KING 5's political reporter Natalie Brand brings us the story.

A King County Superior Court Judge said Friday that voters should have the chance to approve or reject Tim Eyman's latest tax-limiting initiative, even if the initiative is legally questionable.

Eyman's I-1366 calls for a 1-point reduction in the state sales tax (from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent), effective April 15, 2016, unless the legislature sends a constitutional amendment to the voters to require "two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes and majority legislative approval for fee increases."

Opponents who filed to suit to block I-1366 from the November 2015 ballot argued that its language is unconstitutional, since the state constitution cannot be amended by initiative.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman countered that voters have the right to weigh in, despite the initiative's questionable legal application. 

"It's free speech, free will, first amendment rights," Tim Eyman told KING 5 following the court hearing.  

"The vote itself has value, whether or not initiative ever ends up surviving, even if the voters end up voting the initiative down, they at least had a chance to express their view," Eyman said. "The initiative process is the poor man's lobbyist; it's a way for them to be able to lobby their elected officials for policies they want, and over the last 16 years they've been emphatic they want some extra protection from Olympia's insatiable tax appetite."

Nine plaintiffs filed the suit to block the initiative from the ballot, including state Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle). 

"It's blackmail," Rep. Carlyle said. "It's trying to force the legislature to put something on the ballot which is the right of the legislature and they're trying to use coercive power to do that. 

"Everyone is 100% for voting public to have the choice, and representative democracy and the initiative is important," Carlyle told KING 5. "But sometimes an initiative is so poorly written and so unconstitutional...it just doesn't make sense to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer money to have a vote when it's blatantly unconstitutional and it's clearly going to be thrown out by the courts."

In his ruling, Judge Dean Lum agreed the initiative poses constitutional problems, but he said there's no clear legal precedent in Washington to overrule the initiative supporters' First Amendment rights.

"Although I-1366 appears to exceed the scope of the initiative power," Lum wrote, "our Supreme Court has not clearly and squarely ruled on whether the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and/or Article 1 Section 5 of the Washington State Constitution provide additional protections against pre-election challenges even in circumstances where the initiative may itself be invalid. The Supreme Court may clarify this issue prior to the election, but this trial court cannot."

Lum also noted, "Our Supreme Court has invalidated these sponsor's prior initiatives on multiple occasions ... but only after the election had occurred. Here, although the ultimate decision is obviously the Supreme Court's, there is a substantial possibility that I -1366 will be found to be invalid for exceeding the scope of the initiative process, and that voters will be voting on a measure which will never go in to effect."

A notice of appeal to the Supreme Court was filed shortly following today's decision. The case is expected to be expedited, since the deadline to put the initiative on the ballot is September 4th. 

While Secretary of State  Wyman is not taking a position on the policy of the initiative she called today's decision "an important victory for the voters of Washington and for `direct democracy.' We hope that it will stand as the Supreme Court considers an  appeal motion that was quickly filed by the challengers," she said in a statement.

-- Follow Natalie on Twitter: @NatalieBrandK5.


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