OLYMPIA, Aug. 15.—Tim Eyman, the initiative promoter who once dressed as a gorilla to turn in signatures at the state elections office, says he’s going to be shaving and putting on a tie next week as he goes to court to challenge an Office of Financial Management fiscal-impact statement for Initiative 1185.
He’s acting as his own lawyer on this one. “I grew up on L.A. Law and The Practice and Boston Legal, so I have been preparing for this all my life,” he says. “I am thoroughly trained.”
The legal talent here might not be the most seasoned, but it is a potentially big issue for the business community. If Eyman loses, a statement in the voters’ pamphlet will tell the electorate the anti-tax measure will cost the state big bucks, $33 million or more a year by 2017. The measure is a repeat of the same two-thirds for taxes initiative voters keep passing every few years, requiring the House and Senate to pass any tax increase by a two-thirds vote. This year business interests put up much of the $1.3 million it cost to put the measure on the ballot, some of it channeled through the Association of Washington Business PAC.
The problem is that the issue isn’t exactly clear-cut. Normally the official cost estimates that appear in the voters’ pamphlet regarding such measures say they are a matter of legislative procedure, and so they don’t cost a dime. This time out it’s different. Because the measure restates a passage of law already on the books that requires legislative approval for all fee increases, the state budget office says all fees authorized by statute that have not yet been enacted must be passed again by the Legislature. So, for instance, the tolls on the downtown Seattle tunnel, still under construction, can’t be levied unless a new bill is passed. The price tag goes even higher if the Columbia River Crossing at Vancouver is finished by then. And so on and so forth with 11 such fees authorized in the last two years. The way OFM sees it, that’s a hit on the state budget – and that’s why voters will be told that the initiative will cost them plenty.
Eyman calls it a scare tactic. The initiative simply restates a law that was placed on the books by the last version of the two-thirds rule, I-1053 in 2010. Two years ago that initiative forced the Legislature to re-authorize more than 100 fees, most of which have since gone into effect. Eyman maintains that simply by restating the law the initiative doesn’t hit the reset button again. And on this sort of question school-trained lawyers earn their money. Some legislative attorneys maintain that if language is restated in an initiative, it has to be treated as a new law, even if it’s the same as an existing law. Yet that gets tricky because an initiative has the same status as any law passed by the Legislature, and in the Legislature that certainly wouldn’t be true; entire laws are restated every time a word or two is changed. The only difference is a matter of amendment procedure — it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to repeal or suspend an initiative during the first two years, and any other law takes a simple majority. In its effect a law passed by initiative is no different than any other law. Or is it? Sounds like a question for a judge.
Eyman couldn’t get OFM to change its position. And he couldn’t get any of his usual attorneys to take the case – all of them were busy. So what the heck, he’s going to do it himself, representing himself “pro se” in a suit he filed Wednesday called Eyman v. Brown. “I can’t wait to get [OFM Director] Marty Brown on the stand and make him crack under the pressure,” he says.
Alas, state officials normally don’t represent themselves, nor do they typically show up for such hearings. They are represented by the state attorney general’s office. Also named in the suit is Secretary of State Sam Reed. The hearing is next Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court.
“I’ll be watching all sorts of movies between now and then, and I’m going to go to Costco for a box set of Perry Mason, so I’ll be ready,” Eyman vows.