Most ballots are counted, but the fight over Initiative 976 is far from over.
It’s just changing venues.
The measure paring the cost of car tabs to $30, erasing local transportation fees and eliminating most, if not all, of Sound Transit’s vehicle tax is passing comfortably statewide. By design, it will leave the state, the regional transit authority and dozens of cities with less dough to spend on all things transportation.
One new battleground will be Olympia.
The state transportation budget faces a huge hit, and lawmakers will be jousting a lot before settling on a response. With I-976, the notion that “to the victors go the spoils” means apportioning cuts in bus service, delays in projects and longer waits for road resurfacing due to less money.
The leader of Washington’s public school systems took to Twitter last week with an idea: Reduce spending in communities in proportion to the level of their backing for the measure.
“I support those areas that want lower taxes. But you don’t get lower taxes and still get the projects. Fiscal responsibility! Less taxes, less services,” tweeted Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, a Democrat and former state lawmaker.
Under his approach, collectively half the cuts in spending would occur in Snohomish, Pierce and King counties because that’s where nearly half of all “yes” votes were cast. It passed in Snohomish and Pierce counties but not King County.
“Everyone is going to pay some price for this,” he said. “I suggest a logical way to do it is proportionally.”
Another new battleground will be a courtroom.
Leaders of King County and the city of Seattle intend to sue. They think this Tim Eyman-crafted measure is unconstitutional. They want to prove it and thereby uphold the will of their voters, nearly 60% of whom opposed the initiative.
The responsibility of defending the voter-approved initiative falls to the Office of the Attorney General, much to the chagrin of its sponsor and friends.
On Monday, a Republican state senator and Eyman kicked up a dust storm. They called on Attorney General Bob Ferguson to recuse his office and hire an outside law firm to handle any case that is filed.
Sen. Steve O’Ban of University Place contends the attorney general is conflicted on two fronts. First, he sued Eyman in 2017 for allegedly breaking state election laws, and the case is ongoing. Second, more recently, in a lawsuit argued in front of the state Supreme Court, the state sided with Sound Transit on the legality of the motor vehicle excise tax — which is targeted for extinction under Initiative 976.
“Washingtonians deserve to have their laws defended by unbiased legal advocates free of conflicts,” O’Ban wrote in a letter to the attorney general.
Eyman is apoplectic with anger.
As part of the lawsuit against Eyman, the Democratic attorney general is seeking a stiff penalty and new restrictions which could effectively neutralize his influence and involvement in Washington’s electoral process.
“It’s absurd — Bob Ferguson has an obvious conflict — he’s made it his life’s mission to stop all future Tim Eyman initiatives,” Eyman wrote in an email Monday. “And so he’ll never put forth the effort the voters deserve for defending this Tim Eyman initiative.”
Ferguson won’t be pulling out. Defending voter-backed measures from legal challenges is “a responsibility my office takes very seriously,” he said in a statement.
He noted Eyman cheered the defense he put forth for Initiative 1366, a tax-limiting measure passed by voters in 2015.
“The AG’s office made mincemeat out of 1366 opponents. They methodically and meticulously defended I-1366 and completely decimated every single one of opponents’ arguments,” Eyman exclaimed in a January 2016 email to supporters.
Ferguson’s arguments didn’t win the day. The Supreme Court threw out the initiative. Knowing his distaste for losing, he’ll press his squad to make the most persuasive argument possible.
While opponents of I-976 did make Eyman a target of their campaign, any lawsuit will not be about him.
It will be about 1 million voters, some of whom wanted lower car tabs, some of whom wanted to stick it to Sound Transit, and all of whom wanted Initiative 976.
It will be on their behalf that Ferguson and Eyman should find themselves fighting.