Eyman clumsily attacks high-earners income tax initiative, doesn’t admit it would lower taxes for most

Rethinking and ReframingStatements & Advisories

Earlier today, everybody’s favorite former watch salesman sent out yet another hyperbolic fundraising appeal to his supporters.

But unusually, instead of singling out Governor Gregoire or Democratic leaders as a foil for his pitch for money like he often does, Eyman attacked the coalition behind Initiative 1077. The measure, officially unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday, would levy an income tax on Washington’s wealthiest couples and individuals to provide greater funding for education and healthcare.

Naturally, Tim Eyman hates the idea. It’s not his.

So it’s no surprise that he views Initiative 1077 (which may be refiled by its sponsors to address a couple of concerns with the language) as a threat. After dropping Bill Gates Sr.’s name at the beginning of his message, Eyman wrote, “His initiative illustrates the need for our initiative. Because no matter how much they take from the taxpayers, they always want more.” He adds, “(R)ather than saying ‘thanks, that’s enough’, they follow up with a $1 billion per year income tax initiative.”

Nowhere in his email does Eyman mention to his supporters that the initiative would reduce the state property tax levy by twenty percent, or eliminate the business and occupation tax for eighty percent of small businesses. That part of the equation was conveniently left out.

And who is “they”? Olympia? The Legislature? The House and Senate are not responsible for Initiative 1077. If lawmakers wanted to ask the people to approve a high-earners income tax, they could have placed a referendum on this November’s ballot. There wouldn’t have been a need for this measure.

Since the people and organizations who support an income tax on high-earners are not the people’s elected representatives, they’re making use of one of the instruments of direct democracy (the initiative) to give the people a chance to vote on their idea. That’s what Tim Eyman tries to do every year. What is prompting him to speak out against this initiative? Why does he care?

The answer is that he’s afraid of what will happen if the coalition behind this idea succeeds. Given a chance to enact real tax reform, voters could be less inclined to listen to him. He needs Washington’s tax structure to be unfair so there will be an appetite for his schemes in the future.

Eyman seems doubly upset that proponents of tax reform are turning to the initiative process to advance the cause, even though the initiative itself is a progressive invention, brought to Washington during the Progressive Era nearly a hundred years ago.

Is Tim’s reaction surprising? We don’t think so. Anyone who has paid close attention to Eyman’s rhetoric over the years can sense the contempt he has for democracy, and particularly representative democracy. He doesn’t believe in majority rule, except as the threshold for passage of his own initiatives. He revels in causing mayhem but not having to take responsibility for the consequences. The last two years when he hasn’t had an initiative on the ballot (2003 and 2006), he did not even bother to cast a vote in the general election. Check his voting record.

But then, Tim Eyman has never cared about being a good citizen.

It’s hard to measure the amount of time he has spent over the last decade demonizing the Legislature, berating lawmakers, calling them names, doing his utmost to convince the rest of us that they’re the villains, even though we the people elected them to govern and make decisions.

In 2002, Eyman told the Seattle Weekly, “We’ve always contended that any tax increase that any taxing district wants to support is fine, as long as it goes to the voters.”

The campaign announced by Bill Gates Sr. is an initiative to the people. Since it is going to the voters, Tim Eyman should be “fine” with it. But that’s clearly not the case because he’s trying to use it to rile up his supporters. He started campaigning against it as soon as it had been rolled out.

Eyman further argues in his email that people should not support Initiative 1077 because it is “fundamentally flawed”: It could be modified by the Legislature after two years by a simple majority. But that’s true of any initiative; our state Constitution provides for that “fundamental flaw” by specifying the length of time that must elapse before an initiative can be amended like any other statute.

It’s worth noting that since Eyman’s Initiative 1053 and this high-earners income tax initiative are both being proposed in the same year, they would both take effect at the same time if they passed, and would both be subject to modification by simple majority beginning in the 2013 legislative session.

In other words, Initiative 1053 could not stop a majority of lawmakers from doing what Eyman is predicting they’re going to do in 2013: lower the income tax’s threshold. So Eyman’s claim that the latter illustrates the need for the former doesn’t make sense.

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