Revised I-776 launched
OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman yesterday filed a revised version of his latest proposal, Initiative 776, which in part would repeal a special motor-vehicle-excise tax that helps pay for Sound Transit's light-rail project.
The Sound Transit tax was enacted by voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in 1996 to pay for light rail, commuter rail and regional express bus service. It was not affected when lawmakers decided to cut the state car-tab tax in 2000 after Eyman's Initiative 695 passed. The initiative was embraced by state voters in 1999 but rejected by the courts on constitutional grounds.
"Voters now know the boondoggle which is light rail and they want a chance to revote," Eyman said. "What the voters voted for in 1996 is radically different from what is being created now."
Eyman's opponents say the proposal would gut Sound Transit's proposed light-rail project.
The tax — 0.3 percent of a vehicle's value — costs $60 a year for the owner of a $20,000 vehicle and brings in about $57 million a year. Most of the rest of Sound Transit's money comes from a sales tax of 0.4 percent that brings in about $200 million and would not be affected.
King County Executive Ron Sims, the new chairman of the Sound Transit board, said, "He's always argued that people should have a right to vote on taxes. Mr. Eyman himself should be willing to live under a democratic tradition where the majority rules. He's saying he does not want to abide by the majority of people in King, Snohomish and Pierce."
Eyman, of Mukilteo, said the new measure would deliver the $30 car tabs promised by I-695. It would repeal one remaining portion of the excise tax that goes to local transit agencies. It also would eliminate a $15 registration fee paid now only by drivers in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Douglas counties.
The initiative also contains a nonbinding threat to put any transportation-related tax adopted by the Legislature on the ballot.
With legislators set to convene Monday, Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a 9-cent increase in the 23-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, phased in at 3 cents per year. The money would pay for $8.5 billion in transportation projects. Last year, Locke reversed an earlier promise to put the proposal to a public vote, saying the need for improvements was too great to risk failure at the ballot box.
Eyman said he would not oppose a gas-tax increase but would insist on a public vote.
Eyman filed an earlier version of I-776 late last year as an initiative to the Legislature, a tactic he routinely uses as a way to fine-tune the legal language of his proposals while getting a jump on the signature-gathering season.
Since then, he has removed several elements of the original version — including a repeal of the excise tax on boats — to avoid the constitutional challenges that scuttled I-695 and I-722, his 2000 measure that would have limited property-tax growth.
Eyman said he is confident I-776 will avoid the legal problems that plagued I-695, which the state Supreme Court rejected for violating the constitution's single-subject rule.
"We have learned from previous mistakes," Eyman said.
Yesterday's filing is an initiative to the people. Once the secretary of state approves the measure, Eyman will have until July 5 to gather 197,734 signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot.
Seattle Times staff reporter Autumn Koepp contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published January 8, was corrected January 9. Tim Eyman is from Mukilteo. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect city.