Washington initiative king Tim Eyman is back.
This time he’s urging voters to approve I-960. It says the legislature must pass all tax increases with a two-thirds vote.
It also says the legislature — not state agencies — must approve all fee increases.
Eyman calls it “The Taxpayer Protection Initiative.” Opponents call it unconstitutional. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins has our voter's guide to I-960.
To some Tim Eyman is a villain. To others a folk hero. Whatever you think of him — over the past decade he’s become Washington’s most visible, controversial and successful initiative sponsor.
Tim Eyman: “We call it, you know, one part clean-up bill, two parts public disclosure.”
On a recent morning Eyman was a featured speaker at a forum sponsored by the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
He told the group I-960 would require lawmakers — not state agencies — to decide all fee increases. It also reiterates that tax increases in Washington require a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
Tim Eyman: “What we’ve found is that whenever they can’t get two-thirds they simply say this tax increase really isn’t a tax increase because we’re taking it off-budget. And all our initiative simply says is a tax increase is a tax increase and you should have to follow the law.”
That’s the so-called clean-up part of Eyman’s initiative.
On the public disclosure front, I-960 — among other things — requires public notification whenever a lawmaker proposes a tax or fee increase. The lawmaker would also have to pencil out a ten-year cost projection. Critics call it intimidation.
Tim Eyman: “I’m thinking to myself is it intimidation for the citizens to know how their elected officials voted?”
Eyman has perfected a brand of populism that goes like this: those yahoos in Olympia need adult supervision. And the only way to keep ‘em in line is to keep passing anti-tax and accountability initiatives.
At the Gig Harbor breakfast, the counterweight to Eyman came in the form of Christy Margelli. She’s with a group called the Washington Tax Fairness Coalition.
Its members include labor unions, poverty advocates, the League of Women Voters and the Quakers. Margelli told the audience accountability is good, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.
Christy Margelli: “And I think as business people you probably realize that some level of delegation is necessary, that there is such a thing as micro-management and I think we’ve arrived at it.”
For instance, Margelli says, under I-960 the legislature would have to vote every time the cost of a fishing license goes up. Margelli and other critics question whether I-960 is even constitutional.
Christy Margelli: “The question before us now is if as voters we approve this are we ready – and I’m saying you better be ready – for a long, drawn out court challenge.”
Funding for the No on 960 Campaign is coming largely from the Service Employees International Union of Washington or SEIU.
Adam Glickman: “We represent homecare workers, nursing home workers, nurses, child care workers.”
Adam Glickman is SEIU’s spokesman. He says I-960 could harm his members and the vulnerable populations they serve.
Adam Glickman: “We think that this initiative will lead to a more inefficient state government, will lead to tying the hands of our state government in emergencies and we’re committed to defeating and that means both talking to voters, it means funding the campaign.”
As of early October the No campaign was being outspent 5 to 1. Much of the funding for the yes campaign is from one wealthy couple: Mike and Phyllis Dummire of Woodinville.
Mike Dunmire says he’s simply a big admirer of Eyman.
Mike Dumire: “He has an unbridled passion to try to do things that will make Washington a better state and to protect the little guy.”
When it comes to Eyman initiatives – the kneejerk reaction is to vote based on whether you like or dislike Eyman himself. But both he and his opponents hope voters will dig a bit deeper before making up their minds on I-960.