Somewhere Tim Eyman is probably doing that annoying Superman pose of his. That's because yesterday Franklin County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner granted a request for a preliminary injunction against the state's roll-your-own cigarette tax, passed by the Legislature earlier this year and intended to have retailers start collecting the tax July 1.
Spanner concluded that the tax was, indeed, a new tax, and thus in violation of Eyman's much-debated Initiative 1053, passed by voters in 2010 and requiring a two-thirds vote from the Legislature to raise taxes. While there's a definite victory for Eyman-ites and anti-tax zealots in the decision, it also likely sets the stage for further showdowns on I-1053, and possibly even an ultimate decision from the state supreme court on the constitutionality of the initiative's supermajority requirement.
"We are very pleased that Judge Spanner has granted our request for an injunction while our legal challenges are heard in court," said Phil Accordino, CEO of RYO Machine, in a prepared statement distributed to the media. "We look forward to making our case that HB 2565 is an invalid piece of legislation because it violates Initiative 1053, which would have required a 2/3 vote from both houses of the state legislature in order to raise taxes on our small, independent tobacco stores across the state."
"It is gratifying to see that the Washington courts have stepped in to protect the constitutional rights of small business owners and customers," adds Chris Weiss, lead attorney for RYO from Stoel Rives, in the same statement. "While this case is very important to the RYO tobacco industry, it has a far reaching effect on all Washingtonians. Judge Spanner made a hard decision, and I believe the right decision."
Filed June 14 by a resident of Washington, a Benton County tobacco retailer and the Ohio-based RYO Machine LLC, the lawsuit that led to yesterday's decision argues that the roll-your-own cigarette tax should have been subject to the required two-thirds majority vote to pass as laid out by I-1053.
Proponents of the new tax say it simply closes a loophole in the existing law. Of course, it's also estimated that the roll-your-own cigarette tax would bring in $12 million this coming year, helping to fill the state's reported $1 billion budget gap, making it all the more appealing to lawmakers.
RYO's Beau Cribbs says 12 states have signed roll-your-own cigarette tax bills similar to Washington's, while 24 states have proposed similar bills that ultimately didn't pass their respective state legislatures. Thanks in part to the restrictions set forth by I-1053, Cribbs says Washington is the first state RYO has filed a lawsuit against to block a roll-your-own cigarette tax.
Find the full lawsuit on the following page ...