Eyman promises to force vote on gas tax
If signed by the governor the 5 cent gas tax would take effect July 1. Eyman charges since that's before a referendum challenging the gas tax could ever be validated, the legislature is purposefully sabotaging voters’ rights to question it.
Gov. Gary Locke understands voters turned down a much larger transportation package just last November, but he says this one's an improvement. It's smaller, more accountable and will boost the economy by creating jobs.
“It’s up to the voters to decide what they might want to do and there's nothing in here that prevents people from using the initiative process of they so choose,” said Locke.
This new gas tax, although a bitter pill to swallow, seems to have the support of many commuters.
“I think it's important for the tax to happen and I think it will be important for the legislature to follow through and get the roads fixed and built,” said commuter David Steeb.
“I think it's a responsible way to pay for the transportation needs. It's a use tax and so it charges the people who are using the roads most,” said commuter Robert Thoms.
The transportation package received bipartisan support in both the house and senate. In fact, one Republican senator calls this tax hike the “ultimate in accountability,” something he's never seen before.
Regardless, most expect this issue to end up in the courts.
Eyman could face hurdles in forcing vote on gas tax
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA (AP) -- Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman promises to force a public vote on the nickel increase in the gasoline tax approved by Legislature, but getting to the ballot may not be easy.
Ordinarily, citizens can force a statewide vote on any bill passed by the Legislature by gathering roughly 100,000 signatures on a referendum petition within 90 days after the governor signs it.
But most bills don't take effect for 90 days, and the gas tax increase takes effect July 1, the start of the new two-year budget cycle.
Some of its supporters, including Gov. Gary Locke, argue that protects it from the referendum.
"My view is that may not be overturned by referendum," said Locke, who views the money -- and the $4.2 billion in transportation projects it would pay for -- as essential for the state's economic future.
Locke successfully pushed for lawmakers to adopt the tax increase with a public vote after last year's lopsided defeat of Referendum 51, which would have boosted the gas tax by 9 cents.
However, whether the increase is subject to the referendum is an open question that lawyers in Attorney General Christine Gregoire's office are pondering.
"I wish we had the answer," John Pearson, the state's deputy elections director, said Monday. "Somewhere along the line someone would probably want to pursue it in court."
Typically, the only way to protect a bill from the referendum is to declare it an emergency measure, but courts have protected some bills in the past, saying the emergency was implied.
"There are some old cases where the courts have found that a bill was not subject to the referendum clause even though there was no emergency clause," said Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even. Even said none of the cases offers direct guidance on the current question.
If the tax increase is immune from the referendum, then it could only be overturned this year by an initiative to the people.
That takes about 200,000 signatures, which would have to be gathered by July 3 to get on the ballot four months later.
Eyman, who argues that voters should get a say on all tax increases, won't say just exactly how he'll try to force a vote. He said he may wait to see if lawmakers raise other taxes when the return in special session next month to balance the state's budget.
"We want to get the dart board to stop moving before we decide which dart to throw," Eyman said.
With his fund-raising machine and years of expertise in initiative campaigns, raising 100,000 signatures in 90 days would likely be snap. Getting an initiative on the ballot would be much harder.
First, Locke hasn't signed the bill to increase the gas tax from 23 cents to 28 cents, and he doesn't have to until mid-May. Then Eyman would have to file his initiative. Weeks would likely go by as state officials crafted a ballot title, which would then almost certainly be challenged in court by either Eyman or his opponents.
That process would leave Eyman beginning his petition drive in early June, with just a month to track down the roughly 225,000 signers necessary to assure 200,000 valid signatures from registered Washington voters, a process that normally takes four or five months.
Brett Bader, a Republican political consultant and initiative campaign veteran, said Eyman would need a strong current of public opinion to succeed.
"If the legislature's act is met with a shrug of the votes, then it would be impossible," Bader said. "If people are truly outraged there won't be any difficulty at all."
Eyman, who views the July 1 start of the tax as a ploy to avoid a public vote, said he would persist in his push for a vote -- even if it takes an initiative next year, which would put the tax on the ballot some 16 months after the state starts collecting it.
"The voters have a way of holding elected officials accountable when they do sneaky underhanded things," Eyman said.
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