Conservative anti-tax heavyweight Tim Eyman has been picked to write the opposition argument for the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) measure in November’s election, drawing criticism from local opposition groups.
Eyman was selected to write the con statement on for Snohomish, King and Pierce counties along with two other representatives from each county. Kirkland City Council member Toby Nixon was also selected to co-write the statement for King County.
The selection of Eyman has raised concerns by some who oppose ST3, and view the selection as a move by the ST3 board of directors, who selected and approved Eyman over other local representatives, as a way to deflect attention from the measure and onto the writer.
People for Smarter Transit spokesperson Maggie Fimia, a grassroots organization opposing ST3, said Eyman is so unpopular with many independent and Democratic voters that he may hurt their position, even though they share the same platform.
“When they see that Tim Eyman’s name is associated with it, it’s a real negative because he’s so associated with cutting taxes in their minds,” she said. “Instead of looking at the message, they’re going to just be looking at the messenger.”
Fimia said picking Eyman to write the 200-word summary was intentional by ST3, who passed over representatives People for Smarter Growth had submitted.
However, Eyman said he petitioned the ST3 board for the position weeks in advance because he can deliver the strongest argument against the proposal by focusing on the tax increases needed to fund the $54 billion proposal.
“When you’re dealing with a voters pamphlet argument, when you only have 200 words, you have to choose the arguments that you think are going to appeal to the broadest number of people,” he said.
ST3 spokesperson Geoff Patrick also confirmed this, and said in an email that Eyman was selected because he had gathered the most public support. The agency received 18 letters urging them to select Eyman to write the statement.
Patrick also said Eyman was selected because he is one of the most visible opponents of the ST3 proposal.
“The Board carried out its responsibility under the law by choosing two candidates in each county who were promoted by the Smarter Transit organization, as well as Tim Eyman,” Patrick said.
Arguments based around better ways to allocate funding instead of the light rail-heavy ST3 proposal, such as bus rapid transit, won’t attract as many voters, Eyman said.
Eyman said his role as an activist will allow him to present arguments which elected officials may shy away from.
“They don’t want to be judged as a bad person. When you’re an activist your priority is not to be well liked and not to be well respected,” he said. “When you don’t have to care what people think about you, you can rip the bark off the tree of Sound Transit, you can make arguments that no elected officials can ever make.”
Eyman said he’ll drive home how he sees ST3: as an unprecedented tax grab.
But that message is exactly what People for Smart Transit hoped to avoid, wanting to focus on other solutions to regional transportation issues an not just a tax increase.
“If he really cared about a no vote, then he wouldn’t jeopardize this,” Fimia said. “Our signers are working with him to come up with a statement, but we don’t understand why he did this knowing we purposefully asked him not to.”
Still, Eyman said a vote is a vote, and his goal is to get as many people voting against ST3 as possible, regardless of the reason.
Supporters of the plan argue a robust light rail and bus system is needed to account for the influx of residents moving to the region and equity in transportation issues.
Critics often cite the high cost and long-term timeline, up to 25 years, as well as questioning the effectiveness of light rail in the future in their arguments.