Initiative 976 would cripple Sound Transit, which relies on hefty car-tab taxes to fund its expansion of light rail and bus service throughout the Puget Sound region.
Tim Eyman, the anti-tax crusader and serial initiative-filer, announced Thursday that he has collected more than enough signatures to send his latest anti-tax measure to the Legislature and, ultimately, to the voters in November.
The initiative, I-976, would cut all car-tab taxes in the state to a $30 flat fee.
That would cripple Sound Transit, which relies on hefty car-tab taxes to fund its expansion of light rail and bus service throughout the Puget Sound region. It also would deal a financial blow to more than 60 cities and towns around Washington that charge an additional vehicle-registration fee, ranging from $20 to $80, to fund local transportation projects.
Seattle, for instance, charges an $80 fee, which funds both general road maintenance and expanded bus service in the city.
The initiative also would undo weight fees on heavier vehicles that fund walk, bike and transit projects across the state.
Eyman said Thursday that he had submitted more than 350,000 signatures to the secretary of state. About 260,000 valid signatures are required to qualify an initiative. Erich Ebel, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said the office would have a final count on Eyman’s signatures next week.
“I’ve done initiatives on a million different topics, but $30 tabs is really the defining issue that voters identify with us,” Eyman said.
This initiative is to the Legislature, which means the Legislature could approve the vehicle registration and renewal fee cuts as written in the initiative, but if it declined to do so, the initiative would go to voters in November 2019. The Legislature also could write an alternative and put that on the ballot along with Eyman’s initiative.
While voters in the Puget Sound region imposed Sound Transit’s taxes on themselves — by repeatedly approving Sound Transit ballot measures — Eyman’s initiative would give voters statewide the ability to undo those taxes.
Eyman has said that a statewide initiative is the only practical way to undo Sound Transit’s local taxes, because the Sound Transit district stretches over three counties.
“Hopefully people recognize this for what it is,” said Kelsey Mesher, advocacy director for the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition. “This would affect communities all across the state. The revenue that would be cut funds everything from bus service to park and ride to pretty much any transit, walk or bike project.”
Sound Transit 3, which more than tripled car-tab taxes in the Puget Sound region, passed with about 54 percent of the vote in 2016, as voters chose to fund a massive expansion of public transit. But since then, voter umbrage over the increase and the way car-tab taxes are calculated has led the state Legislature to try to make changes.
Twice, both the state House and the state Senate have passed bills to change the inflated formula that Sound Transit uses to calculate car-tab taxes. But the two houses failed to agree on the legislation, and no changes have been made.
It is the fifth time Eyman has tried, with varying levels of success, to cut car-tab taxes to $30 by ballot initiative. In 2017, Eyman failed to collect enough signatures to send a $30-tabs initiative to the ballot.
He passed an initiative in 2002, but the state Supreme Court said Sound Transit could continue to collect its tax because the agency already had sold bonds based on the rate.
This year’s initiative would require Sound Transit to “retire, defease or refinance” any bonds that are backed by car-tab tax revenue.
Part of the reason Eyman said he was successful this time, and not in 2017, was his use of paid signature-gatherers.
Eyman loaned his political committee $500,000 to support the initiative. The committee has spent about $615,000, the vast majority of which — $555,000 — went to Citizen Solutions, a signature-gathering firm.
Both Eyman and Citizen Solutions are being sued by Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Ferguson alleges that Eyman has used money donated to initiative campaigns to enrich himself.
Eyman’s company, Watchdog for Taxpayers, and Citizen Solutions have been in contempt of court since last February, for not handing over documents relevant to the lawsuit, and are being fined $500 a day.
Eyman filed for bankruptcy late last year, claiming the lawsuit and legal fees had pushed his finances to the breaking point.
In a November filing with U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eyman wrote that he has a little more than $2 million in assets against nearly $3.2 million in liabilities, almost all of which is owed to the state of Washington. He wrote that he has been making $42,573.84 a month since May.
“The opponents of our initiatives always try to make me the issue, but what we’ve learned over the years is what voters care about is what the initiative actually does,” Eyman said Thursday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Tim Eyman is in contempt of court for not handing over documents related to a lawsuit against him. Eyman’s company remains in contempt of court, but Eyman himself is no longer in contempt.