Eye On Olympia

Long-awaited ruling on state tax limit coming in the morning...

The state Supreme Court says it's likely to issue its opinion tomorrow morning in Washington Citizen Action v. State of WA, which challenges the constitutionality of Washington's I-747 property-tax limit. (Among the plaintiffs: Whitman County.)

It's a complex case, but here's a primer:

Prior to 2000, local property tax increases were typically capped at 6 percent more per year. But in November of that year, voters approved anti-tax activist Tim Eyman's Initiative 722, which lowered the cap to 2 percent unless voters okayed more. The lower cap was promptly challenged in court.

While that court fight was going on, Eyman in 2001 launched a yet-stricter measure -- Initiative 747 -- to bring the cap down to 1 percent.

The 2-percent cap was declared unconstitutional by a Pierce County judge in February 2001, a decision that the state Supreme Court upheld in September of that year. The property tax cap reverted back to 6 percent more per year.

Meanwhile, however, Eyman was pushing ahead with I-747, gathering and filing signatures and getting the measure on the ballot in November 2001. It passed.

The problem: the new ballot measure language cited the old 2 percent cap.

As a result, King County Superior Court udge Mary E. Roberts ruled a year ago, voters were led to believe they were voting for just a modest reduction in the cap -- from 2 percent to 1 percent. In reality, the cut was much more dramatic: from 6 percent to 1 percent.

"The voters were misled as to the nature and content of the law to be amended," Roberts wrote in a June 2006 ruling. "...The constitution forbids this." So she declared I-747 to be unconstitutional.

That ruling was appealed to the state Supreme Court, and argued this past May. (Justices Mary Fairhurst and Jim Johnson recused themselves.)




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