Tim Eyman must be held accountable for lying to the public during last year’s I-976 campaign

Election Postmortem

Last year, during the campaign for and against Initiative 976, sponsor Tim Eyman told a lot of whoppers as he crisscrossed the state promoting the incredibly destructive measure to gut funding for multimodal transportation investments… whoppers that were often repeated in the mass media without being debunked or even challenged.

With the Supreme Court on the verge of hearing oral arguments in the legal challenge against I-976 in just eleven days, it’s a good time to reflect anew on the ramifications that would result from I-976’s implementation, and a good time to hold Tim Eyman accountable for his many fibs and fabrications, especially given that Eyman is now a candidate for governor, the highest office in the state.

One of Eyman’s whoppers, which we addressed in an advisory on September 24th, 2019 (read it here), concerned the statewide fiscal fallout from I-976.

I-976 sought to repeal vehicle fees at three different levels (state, regional/Sound Transit, and local) as well as a slice of the sales tax on vehicle sales that is dedicated to transportation improvements.

During the course of the campaign Eyman claimed — falsely — that there was a “$3.5 billion surplus” that lawmakers could tap to backfill the big hole that I-976 would leave from gutting those revenue sources.

“There is more than enough revenue to backfill any affected government program,” Eyman wrongly declared on multiple occasions as he pitched the initiative.

The Seattle Times’ Heidi Groover was one of the few reporters who took the trouble of carefully unpacking and analyzing Eyman’s claim, in a story that ran on October 30th, close to Election Day.

“That [$3.5 billion] figure, now about $3.1 billion in the latest available projections, includes the state’s rainy-day fund that even some conservative groups are hesitant to drain,” Groover reported.

“About $2.2 billion is in that fund. Lawmakers need a three-fifths vote to spend from that account — except after catastrophic events and during times of low employment growth. The remaining $952 million in reserves are not in the rainy-day fund and could be spent with a simple majority.”

Groover’s story goes on to recount what happened to agencies like Washington State Ferries after Eyman’s I-695 was partially implemented twenty years ago.

As mentioned, in many other stories we saw, including one that was billed as a fact-checking segment, Eyman’s claim about there being “more than enough revenue to backfill any affected government program” was repeated without being debunked or even being challenged like it should have been.

As a consequence, some voters may have bought into the false notion that I-976 was a free lunch and that its approval would not jeopardize projects.

(Postelection research by Stuart Elway’s firm later validated that most voters are not in favor of cuts to projects.)

“During the campaign against I-976, we made it abundantly clear that there was no ‘$3.5 billion net surplus’ and that Tim Eyman was lying,” said Northwest Progressive Institute founder and executive director Andrew Villeneuve.

“Monies set aside for a rainy day in the budget stabilization account are not surplus funds, they are emergency funds, and they are constitutionally protected precisely to guard against the possibility of being raided to pay for things that aren’t actual emergencies… like the irresponsible tax cutting schemes of a shoplifting grifter obsessed with instant gratification. The events of the last few months have demonstrated exactly what we meant last autumn when we said there was no surplus.”

“The emergency that we were saving for has arrived. We now need every penny of the rainy day fund and our reserves to stabilize our budget and avoid horrific cuts to services.”

The rainy day fund is not enough to cover the fiscal hole the state is facing, so lawmakers will either need to raise revenue, borrow money, seek federal assistance, or do all three to avoid horrific cuts to services.

“Washington State couldn’t afford Tim Eyman’s I-976 in 2019 and it certainly can’t afford I-976 now,” Villeneuve added. “Because I-976 is blatantly unconstitutional, there is still an opportunity for it to be defeated in the Supreme Court before it can start wreaking havoc on our already-suffering communities. We are grateful to all the plaintiffs who have carried on the fight against I-976 in the courts, and we are hopeful that when the case is finally over, I-976 will have been struck down in its entirety and Washingtonians will have dodged a massive transportation budget bomb. In the meantime, Tim Eyman must be held accountable for his lies at every opportunity.”

For reference, here is last year’s advisory in response to Eyman’s whopper.

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