November 15th, 2019
I-776 and I-976 are very different, contrary to what Tim Eyman claims
In the Courts
Tim Eyman’s Election Night euphoria has predictably dissolved into whining and complaining over the reality that local governments aren’t going to allow his incredibly destructive I-976 to take effect next month without a constitutional challenge. With the court case now underway, Eyman is anxiously trying to spin I-976 as constitutional.
Eyman argues that since I-776 was partially upheld by the Supreme Court in Pierce County v. State in 2003, I-976 must be constitutional, too.
(I-776 was Eyman’s 2002 initiative that was aimed at slashing vehicle fees. It narrowly passed.)
But this is yet another bogus Eyman argument. It comes from someone with a long track record of losing in the courts.
Every Tim Eyman initiative since 1999 that has gotten past the voters has been challenged successfully on constitutional grounds except for I-900 (2005).
The list of challenged Eyman initiatives is as follows:
- I-695 from 2000: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 19.
- I-722 from 2000: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 19.
- I-747 from 2001: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 37.
- I-776 from 2002: Partially upheld and partially struck down because one of its provisions violated Article I, Section 23.
- I-960 from 2007, I-1053 from 2010, and I-1185 from 2012: Struck down in part because they violated Article II, Section 22.
- I-1366 from 2015: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 19.
If you compare I-776 to I-976, you can see they are very different. I-976 targets fees that didn’t even exist around the turn of the century.
A total of seventeen years elapsed between voters’ consideration of I-776 and I-976.
In that time, the Legislature modified a significant number of RCWs pertaining to transportation funding.
For example, working together with three different governors, the Legislature passed:
- the nickel transportation package (in 2003);
- the 2005 Transportation package (in 2005);
- legislation giving local governments more revenue authority for transportation (in 2020);
- the Connecting Washington transportation package (in 2015).
The 2005 package authorized vehicle weight fees as a funding source for multimodal transportation projects at the state level, while the 2015 package gave Sound Transit the authority to seek voter approval for a higher motor vehicle excise tax and empowered transportation benefit districts to raise more money from vehicle fees.
In 2015, the Legislature also authorized counties and cities to assume transportation benefit districts; see Chapter 36.74 RCW.
We have created an online comparison between I-776 and I-976 using the original text of each measure as provided by the Secretary of State’s website.
Take a look and examine the source texts.
The plaintiffs in Garfield County et al v. State allege that I-976 has constitutional defects. We agree. Tim Eyman can claim we’re wrong till he’s red in the face, but history is not on his side. The courts will decide who’s right, not Eyman or his new attorney Richard Sanders, who voters decided to remove from the Supreme Court several years ago.
It is essential to remember that the schemes that Eyman has come up with have consistently been found to be unconstitutional.
If Eyman were interested in writing measures that did not have constitutional defects, he would take much greater care when drafting measures like I-976. But he doesn’t.
And others active in right wing politics in Washington State have noticed.
“We feel that we need to have a product that has the best chance of surviving the inevitable court challenge that will follow,” said “Liberty State” organizers Mike McKee and Cary Condotta in a July 2019 message to their fans explaining why their group was choosing not to continue working with Tim Eyman. (For background, see this post.)
For Eyman, there is a big upside to seeing one of his measures get struck down in court: he can go back to his followers and argue that he needs more money for another initiative that does the same thing, or a similar thing. Eyman profits regardless of whether his measures are successful. He knows how to run a good scam.
But Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office is working tirelessly to hold him accountable for violating our public disclosure laws. That could ruin Eyman’s future plans to continue launching attacks on Washington’s communities. Is it any wonder, then, that Eyman furiously denounces the Attorney General as “Fascist Fergie”?