Eyman wises up

Washington's initiative king realizes that less is more.

LOOK OUT, WORLD: Tim Eyman is learning from his mistakes.

The leader of Washington's tax revolt is practicing voluntary simplicity with his latest offering, Initiative 747. It would limit annual property tax increases by cities and counties to 1 percent. That's all.

Eyman admits that he has sometimes tried to do too much with a single initiative. "You complicate the measure, you sometimes make it more difficult for people to understand what you're trying to do," he says. "We don't need to get the whole kitchen sink into one proposal in order to have a positive impact."

Eyman's complicated initiatives have proven popular with voters but vulnerable to court challenges. Let's check Tim's scorecard:

*Initiative 200 (1998), a measure to ban racial preferences in government hiring and contracting. The voters approved, and it was never challenged in court.

*Initiative 695 (1999), an effort to slash car tab fees and require a vote on all tax and fee increases. The voters approved, but the measure was later struck down by the Washington State Supreme Court.

*Initiative 722 (2000), a complicated three-part property tax limitation proposal. The voters approved, but most experts believe the initiative, which is the subject of an active court challenge, will be struck down.

*Initiative 745 (2000), a measure to shift transit funding to road building. Voters rejected it.

Although last year's I-722 already trimmed the allowed annual local property tax boost from 6 percent to 2 percent, Eyman notes that municipalities have ignored that message of moderation from cash-strapped taxpayers. "What we're trying to do is tighten the belt further," he says. Because local governments, including Seattle's, have put the measure on hold by challenging it in court, "you've basically got politicians robbing the taxpayers of any kind of tax relief," Eyman believes.

The Mukilteo businessman and his political organization, Permanent Offense, were originally planning a pair of initiatives for this year's ballot. Just days before proposing I-747, he was still pushing a proposal to force a public vote on all tax and fee increases, even though the state's high court had already ruled this form of direct democracy unconstitutional.

Knoll Lowney, a Seattle attorney and chair of the whimsically titled Eyman watchdog group Permanently Offended, says the initiative sponsor seems to have finally wised up. "This might be his attempt to retrench himself," he says. Lowney continues optimistically, "There's a big question whether people are going to want to legislate through Tim Eyman on this issue."

Lowney credits his organization's criticism of Eyman's earlier proposals in getting the initiative-monger to back down. "As far as I'm concerned, if we're able to knock out a harmful initiative just by doing some PR work, we've had a major success," he says.

But Eyman's single-initiative strategy also may backfire. Last year, opponents decided to concentrate on defeating the weaker of his two initiatives; this year, they've only got I-747 to kick around.

Even with the criticism, Washington's initiative king has maintained his sense of humor. Eyman notes that the number of his initiative, 747, is the same as the Boeing Co.'s most famous airplane. "Everything we've ever done [Boeing] has opposed," he says. "It would be funny to see the headline 'Boeing opposes 747.'"

 
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