Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax initiative, I-1366, would cut state taxes by $8 billion over six years unless the Legislature sends a tax-limiting constitutional amendment to the ballot next year.

Share story

Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax initiative, which could slash state tax revenues by $8 billion over the next six years, is headed to Washington’s November election ballot.

Initiative 1366 would reduce the state’s 6.5-cent sales tax by a penny unless the Legislature sends a tax-limiting constitutional amendment to the ballot for a public vote next year.

Such an amendment would reinstate a popular two-thirds supermajority-vote requirement for the Legislature to pass any tax increases without a public vote. A simple majority of lawmakers would suffice for taxes sent to voters for approval or rejection.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Wednesday the measure had qualified for the fall ballot based on a sample check of petition signatures. Backers submitted about 340,000 signatures, well above the 245,372 required.

The supermajority-for-taxes concept contained in I-1366 has been endorsed by Washington voters in five previous initiative votes. But the state Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in 2013.

Because the state Constitution cannot be amended through a citizens initiative, I-1366 seeks to goad the Legislature into referring an amendment to the ballot next year. Doing so itself would require a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate.

Eyman said Wednesday that I-1366 is “all about protecting the taxpayers from Olympia’s insatiable tax appetite. Whenever people ask why our initiative is necessary, all we say is: ‘Did you see how tax-obsessed Olympia was this year?’ ’’

Opponents, including unions, Democratic legislators and education advocates, argue the measure would set up a terrible choice for lawmakers.

“He’s proposing something that is incredibly destructive. It’s a hostage-taking scheme,” said Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who is heading one of two registered political committees opposing the initiative.

Critics argue Eyman’s latest proposal could lock the state into its current regressive tax structure and make it harder to meet financial demands, including additional K-12 schools funding required by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

The League of Education Voters called the proposal “another mean-spirited distraction” from Eyman in a statement Wednesday. Cutting the sales tax would cause “devastating cuts to our schools” and violate the McCleary ruling, the group said.

Opponents of Eyman’s proposal say they’ll to sue to try to keep it off the ballot, arguing the measure illegally tries to coerce the Legislature into putting the constitutional amendment on the ballot. A coalition including Democrats, parents of school children and others plan to announce the lawsuit at a news conference Thursday in Seattle.

The I-1366 campaign has raised more than $1.7 million, with its largest backing coming from Clyde Holland, a Vancouver-area apartment developer, who has donated $540,000. The campaign has spent about $1.3 million, mostly on paid signature gatherers.

Opponents have yet to report substantial campaign donations, but Villeneuve predicted the campaign will ramp up quickly once people realize I-1366 will be up for a vote.

The state Office of Financial Management (OFM) on Wednesday released a legally required fiscal-impact statement estimating I-1366 would reduce tax revenue for the general-fund budget by $8 billion between the 2016 and 2021 fiscal years, if the tax cut became law.

The cut would be avoided if lawmakers refer the constitutional amendment to the 2016 ballot, regardless of whether it passes.

If the tax cut were triggered, the $1.4 billion reduction in fiscal 2017 would be more than the $1.3 billion in additional funding the state Legislature devoted to K-12 education in the recently approved 2015-17 budget.

At the same time, OFM projected a lower state sales tax would stimulate some added buying by consumers, resulting in additional tax collections of $226 million over the same period for cities and other local governments.

I-1366 is one of two initiatives that have qualified for the November ballot.

Initiative 1401, bankrolled by billionaire Paul Allen, would make it a crime in Washington to sell or trade body parts derived from 10 exotic endangered species, including elephants, tigers, lions and sharks.