Eyman’s $30 car tabs will be on November ballot
Last updated 1/9/2019 at Noon
Editor's Note: Two corrections were made since this was printed to fix errors regarding the lawsuit by the state Attorney General's Office. Both corrections are underlined in the story.
Tim Eyman’s $500,000 gamble appears to have paid off.
The Mukilteo initiative promoter announced last week that his latest attempt to get $30 car tab fees on the Washington state ballot was successful.
Eyman, along with his partners Jack and Mike Fagan, revealed they had gathered over 350,000 signatures nearly 100,000 he needed to qualify for the November ballot in support of I-976, which would cap tab fees for all Washington state vehicles.
Last Thursday, Eyman sent a newsletter to his supporters, describing the tall task to put an initiative on the ballot.
“Qualifying an initiative for the ballot under any circumstances is extremely difficult,” he said. “You have to have an indescribably popular proposal, you have to raise a lot of money, and you have to generate a ton of grassroots support. That is a huge challenge.”
After failing to gather enough signatures in 2017, Eyman got the ball rolling early and had a head start in terms of funding.
Eyman and his wife, Karen, loaned the signature drive $500,000 from their retirement fund in order to employ paid signature gatherers through Citizens Solutions, a signature gathering firm.
With the success of the signature drive, 2019 is off to a better start than 2018 for Eyman.
Eyman had no initiatives on the November ballot, and announced in late November that he was filing for bankruptcy and divorce, citing his ongoing legal battle with Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
In 2017, Ferguson’s office filed a $2.1 million lawsuit against Eyman, alleging improper use of over $300,000 in contributions made to political committees, concealment of contributions totaling nearly $500,000, and misleading campaign finance reporting.
The lawsuit also accuses Citizen Solutions, a for-profit signature-gathering firm that Eyman has used, of participating in a scheme to conceal money it funneled to Eyman.
In addition to the $2.1 million, Ferguson is seeking to prevent Eyman from managing, controlling, negotiating, or directing financial transactions of any kind for any political committee in the future.
Eyman said the battle with Ferguson’s office made gathering signatures for I-976 much more difficult.
“How much tougher is it when the AG is laying siege on you, your wife, and your supporters? When you're scrambling to fundraise $800,000 to pay your lawyers, while at the same time trying to raise funds for the signature drive?” he said in his newsletter.
“When the government's witch hunt forces you into bankruptcy and divorce? When you're so committed to the effort that you sell off your family's retirement fund and loan it to the initiative campaign just to show that power-hungry sonuvabitch that you won't be intimidated by him?”
The lawsuit was temporarily stopped due to bankruptcy laws, which put a freeze on any ongoing civil proceedings against the debtor. However, the Attorney General's Office asked for a legal exception due to law enforcement and regulatory actions and that the automatic stay did not apply. This was confirmed Friday, Jan. 4, and the case will now resume.
Hit against public transportation
If voters in the November election approve I-976, taxpayers’ wallets would see the biggest benefit. Public transportation would take the biggest hit.
In 2016, Sound Transit’s ST3 plan was approved by 54 percent of voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce County to expand the public transportation system in the three counties through light rail, bus and commuter rail services.
ST3 increased some local taxes to help with funding, one of those being on vehicle tabs.
When it first went into effect in 2017, there was “sticker shock” by many in the counties.
If I-976 passes, Sound Transit would take a big hit in finances as a result.
Andrew Villeneuve, the Northwest Progressive Institute’s founder and executive director, held a press conference just before Eyman’s announcement last Thursday. Villeneuve and the Northwest Progressive Institute have opposed many Eyman-led initiatives in the past.
"We rise or fall together as a state, which is why it is so important we continue to pool our resources so we can afford the things we need,” said Villeneuve. “This measure gravely threatens our state's business climate, freedom of mobility, and future prosperity. It does so by gutting funding for many current and planned services: Amtrak Cascades, freight mobility projects, Sound Transit Link light rail, King County Metro bus service, and local roads."
Villeneuve said he and his supporters will work to oppose I-976 throughout 2019.
"In the coming weeks and months, our coalition will bring together businesses, labor unions, environmental organizations, civic groups and concerned citizens to unite Washingtonians in opposition to this initiative and to uphold Evergreen State values like mutual responsibility and stewardship," he said.
This is the fifth time Eyman has tried to cut vehicle tab taxes to $30 through ballot initiatives.
Eyman was successful in 2002, but was the initiative was reversed by the Washington State Supreme Court due in part to Sound Transit already selling bonds based on the rate at the time.
According to I-976’s text, it would require Sound Transit to “retire, defease or refinance” all bonds backed by car-tab tax revenue.