Opponents of Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax initiative are trying to block a public vote on it. They filed a lawsuit arguing I-1366 is unconstitutional.
Opponents of Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax initiative filed a lawsuit Thursday in an effort to keep it off the November election ballot.
I-1366 seeks to reinstate a two-thirds supermajority requirement for any tax increases passed by the Legislature, except those sent to the ballot for voter approval. Voters repeatedly have backed the supermajority requirement, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court two years ago.
Washington’s Constitution cannot be amended by a citizens initiative, so I-1366 attempts to pressure lawmakers into sending an amendment to the 2016 ballot.
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If they refuse, the measure would cut the state’s 6.5-cent sales tax by a penny, reducing state revenues by $8 billion over the next six years.
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During a news conference at a downtown Seattle law firm Thursday, opponents of the proposal announced a lawsuit seeking to block a public vote on it. The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court by a coalition including Democratic state legislators, parents of public schoolchildren and social-services advocates.
Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called Eyman’s proposal an “unlawful end run” around the state’s process for amending the Constitution. The lawsuit argues I-1366 “is beyond the scope” of authority granted to citizen initiatives.
Lawrence said opponents will seek an injunction to keep the proposal off the ballot. A hearing on that request is set for Aug. 14.
In an email blast to supporters, Eyman slammed the lawsuit and said voters should have the right to debate the issue.
“If you can’t win a vote, you try to cancel it or block it,” he wrote. “Politicians clearly believe that voters overwhelmingly support I-1366’s taxpayer protection policies and that’s why they desperately want to take away the people’s right to vote on it.”
Courts previously have showed some reluctance to pre-empt initiative votes. In 2007, for example, the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected a lawsuit seeking to block a vote on Eyman’s Initiative 960, which also sought a legislative supermajority requirement for tax votes. In that ruling, the court said whether the initiative was constitutional or not was “an inquiry that we will not engage in before the voters have had their say.”
But Lawrence said plaintiffs believe their new challenge is narrowly defined and can succeed based on other precedents that make it clear courts can consider whether initiatives are pursuing goals that are within their allowable constitutional scope.
A new poll released Thursday found I-1366 starts with a lead among voters. The statewide Elway Poll found 49 percent favor the proposal, with 36 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided. The poll of 502 registered voters was conducted July 21-23 and has a 4.5 percent margin of error.
If their pre-emptive strike fails, Eyman’s opponents say they’ll seek to invalidate I-1366 on other legal grounds if it passes.
The budget cuts or tax constraints that could result if I-1366 passes would harm the state’s ability to meet the constitutional demands of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on school funding, opponents argue.
“Initiative 1366 is blackmail and would be incredibly damaging,” said Eden Mack, a Seattle parent of three schoolchildren, and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.