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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eyman wary of ‘tab-creep’ on autos

David Ammons Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Anti-tax initiative sponsor Tim Eyman is dusting off an old idea for his newest ballot-box battle: $30 car tabs.

Eyman told the Associated Press on Monday that he’ll push a 2006 initiative that rolls back any state or local car taxes that boost the fee beyond the $30 voters approved with Initiative 695 in 1999.

He also wants to force Sound Transit to pay off the bonds for its light-rail program.

It’s a trip down memory lane for Eyman. His I-695 victory put him on the map – as an anti-tax hero to the less-government, lower-taxes crowd, and as a dangerous publicity hound to his detractors.

That measure replaced the state’s motor vehicle excise tax, which could cost a motorist hundreds of dollars each year, with a flat $30 car-tab fee. The courts threw it out, but lawmakers quickly adopted $30 tabs.

After local taxes, including those for Sound Transit’s light-rail project, started what Eyman called “tab-creep,” he ran I-776, which again asserted the voters’ desire for $30 tabs. Voters approved that measure in 2002, but Sound Transit continued collecting extra taxes to pay off bonds. The county court upheld the practice, but Eyman has appealed.

Now, he says he’s worried that the Puget Sound regional, Seattle Monorail and state transportation packages have turned to car tabs as a source of revenue. Regional voters, for instance, may be asked to approve a 0.6 percent excise tax, and the state finance package likely will include a weight fee that adds between $5 and $25 to the tabs.

So Eyman plans to file an initiative with the secretary of state this week. His plan is to route the proposal through the Legislature next winter. Presuming lawmakers ignore it, the initiative would go on the ballot in November 2006.

Eyman will have until Dec. 30 to gather 225,014 valid signatures. This year, he’s sponsoring I-900 to require and finance performance audits of state government agencies and programs.

“This new initiative is ‘Definitely, $30 means $30,’ ” he said in an interview. “It tells the politicians that it’s time to move on (to other revenue sources) because this a radioactive tax that voters just won’t accept.”

He said while former Gov. Gary Locke and legislators promised that “$30 tabs are here to stay,” state and local officials keep turning to it as a convenient revenue source.

“This is the most arrogant and disrespectful attitude toward the voters. It’s like having children who are constantly trying to test you,” Eyman said.

Legislators defend their use of vehicle weight fees as part of the state transportation package and their earlier decision to allow excise taxes as part of voter-approved regional financing.

“We hear from voters, too, and they tell us they want us to take care of transportation problems in this state,” said House Transportation Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

“Flexible funding” provisions like the vehicle weight fees are important because the state constitution says the state gasoline tax can be used only on roads and car ferries, he said. The flexible money can be used for transit, rail, passenger-only ferries, vanpool programs and other non-asphalt spending.

Also, the small weight fee is much lower than the old car-tab tax, Murray said.

Eyman critic David Goldstein, a Seattle blogger and software designer, called the new initiative a tantrum by a sponsor who has gotten too caught up in his own myth.

“He’s making a fetish out of $30 tabs,” Goldstein said in an interview. “It’s his personal ego. And it’s bad public policy. It shows his disregard for local control. It’s another statewide initiative to prevent us in Seattle and King County from building the kind of infrastructure we want and need.

“Here’s the guy who’s against centralized government and for voter control who is now essentially railing against local control.”