Judge strikes down property tax I-747
03:37 PM PDT on Tuesday, June 13, 2006
SEATTLE - A King County Superior Court judge on Tuesday struck down Tim Eyman's 2001 initiative limiting property tax increases, saying its ballot language was misleading.
Initiative 747 claimed that it would change the limit on property tax increases from 2 percent a year to 1 percent a year by amending Initiative 722, which had been passed earlier, Judge Mary Roberts said. In reality, she said, I-722 had already been declared invalid.
I-747 had been challenged by Whitman County and several organizations furious that it led to budget cuts for schools, fire districts and hospitals.
"The voters were incorrectly led to believe they were voting to amend I-722," Roberts said. "The voters were misled as to the nature and content of the law to be amended, and the effect of the amendment upon it. The (state) constitution forbids this."
Eyman, the state's most prominent initiative sponsor, called it "the goofiest ruling I've ever seen in my life."
"She's saying the voters just didn't know what they were voting for, and that's just laughable on its face," he said.
At the time I-722 was passed in November 2000, increases in property taxes were generally capped at 6 percent. I-722 limited that increase, in most situations, to 2 percent. But on Nov. 30, 2000, a Thurston County Superior Court judge issued an injunction blocking I-722 from taking effect.
In January 2001, Eyman filed I-747, which purported to amend I-722, even though the law had been put on hold. I-722 was finally ruled invalid by the state Supreme Court in September 2001.
Roberts said that while voters believed they were lowering the limit on property tax increases from 2 percent to 1 percent, they were really lowering it from 6 percent to 1 percent.
"The court today confirmed that Eyman made false promises in pushing Initiative 747," said Knoll Lowney, an attorney representing Whitman County, Washington Citizen Action and other plaintiffs. "He talked about giving taxpayers more rights, but really was stealing money from our schools, fire districts and hospitals."
Eyman argued that there was no way he could have known when he drafted I-747 that months later, the state Supreme Court would strike down I-722.
"You've got to draft your measure reflecting the laws that exist at the time you draft your measure," Eyman said.
When reminded that because of the injunction, I-722 was not in effect when he filed the initiative, Eyman argued that I-722 was the law at the time; it was just on hold while a judge reviewed its constitutionality.
He said he expected the state attorney general's office, which defended the initiative, to appeal.
Eyman's latest effort, a referendum that would have halted the state's new gay-rights law, ended last week when he failed to gather enough signatures.