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Washington Supreme Court strikes down 2015 Eyman initiative

Thu., May 26, 2016, 10:55 a.m.

OLYMPIA – A 2015 ballot measure from perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman was ruled unconstitutional Thursday in a unanimous decision by the state Supreme Court.

The ballot measure tried to force the Washington Legislature to choose between taking a cut in the sales tax and referring to voters a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature to raise taxes.

By tying those two elements together in a single ballot measure, Initiative 1366 “is the kind of logrolling of unrelated measures” forbidden by the state Constitution, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote.

Justices agreed with the trial court that it was impossible to tell how many people voted for the initiative last November because they supported a constitutional amendment and how many voted for it because they wanted a 1-cent-per-dollar reduction in the sales tax.

I-1366 was the latest ballot measure by Eyman, of Mukilteo, and Mike Fagan and Jack Fagan of Spokane.

The measure was challenged by several taxpayers, two legislators and the League of Women Voters.

A trial court had suspended the initiative shortly after the election results were certified. Among their arguments, supporters of the initiative urged the Supreme Court to wait until the Legislature decided how to deal with the two options presented. The court rejected that suggestion, saying it does not solve the problem.

The court also rejected the state’s theory that the initiative didn’t violate the single-subject rule because only one of the options would go into effect. It only called for a reduction in the sales tax if the Legislature did not pass and send to voters a constitutional amendment requiring supermajorities to approve tax increases.

Eyman has made a career out of creative, if sometimes unsuccessful, efforts to change the tax system and has filed another this year. He said in an email the nine-member court was ignoring 1.9 million voters, and he urged his supporters to vote against Legislature’s Democrats who didn’t support the constitutional change in the 2016 session.

I-1366 actually received 760,518 yes votes compared to 715,684 no votes in the 2015 general election.

Andrew Villaneuve, executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute and a longtime critic of Eyman, praised the court for sending the initiative to “the graveyard of Washington politics.” He posted a list of Eyman’s other unsuccessful attempts to change tax laws on a website devoted to fighting them, Permanent Defense.

In a previous ruling, the court struck down an earlier initiative that tried to require supermajorities for tax increases, saying it would require a constitutional amendment that must be sent to the ballot by the Legislature, not by an initiative petition. I-1366 was an attempt to overcome that ruling by giving lawmakers a choice: Accept an estimated $1.4 billion tax cut or ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment.

“This argument fails to appreciate the ‘do this or else’ structure of the initiative,” Madsen wrote, and it could establish a new process to amend the constitution. “The new norm would be for initiative sponsors to pair one drastic or undesirable measure with an ultimatum that it go into effect unless a specific constitutional amendment is proposed to the people.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Steven Gonzalez called I-1366 an attempt to turn the constitutional amendment process “on its head.”

“Initiatives are not the proper vehicle to amend the constitution,” he wrote in a short but strongly worded concurrence.

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