Eyman, foes pitch dozens of initiatives - While the Mukilteo activist looks to rein in state spending, opponents launch a counterattack

By David Ammons
Associated Press
Tri-City Herald


OLYMPIA -- Tim Eyman rolled out his 2003 initiative -- to tighten state spending limits and create a supermajority requirement for state tax increases -- and opponents lashed back and proposed myriad ways to clamp down on initiative sponsors like him.

One foe even managed to take away the initiative number, I-800, that Eyman had thought was his. The Mukilteo resident has been marketing his new initiative as the "800-pound gorilla" to attack taxes and government spending. Now it will have to be the 807-pound gorilla, Eyman said.

"The 'I-800' T-shirts will be collectors' items on eBay," he said with a laugh.

Monday's flurry, including dueling press conferences in the secretary of state's foyer, marked the opening of the new initiative season. Nearly three dozen pieces of homemade legislation were filed, including 15 from one sponsor and five from another.

Subjects ranged from term limits and interest rates to renaming the state and cracking down on the initiative process itself.

Eyman and the other sponsors have until July to collect about 200,000 valid voter signatures. If history is a guide, only a handful will make the ballot.

Eyman, who has won approval of at least one initiative in each of the past four years, has become a lightning rod, because of his brash style and because his plans have crimped revenue available to state and local government.

Veteran campaign strategist Steve Zemke, Democratic campaign consultant Christian Sinderman and Olympia lobbyist James King crashed Eyman's news conference and took a verbal whack at him afterward. They offered their own initiatives, most directed at Eyman.

Ideas include a ban on paying solicitors for each signature they collect and requiring Eyman and others to say in future initiatives how the Legislature should cut programs to reflect tax-cut measures.

Referring to Eyman, Zemke complained about "the extreme conservative and libertarian agenda of so-called anti-tax fanatics that seem to believe that no government is the best government and that there IS a free lunch."

Eyman is trying to "hogtie" the Legislature with endless tax-limit initiatives, Zemke told reporters. "We believe we need to bring some sanity to this debate," he said.

Several hours later, Zemke announced he had managed to snag the I-800 number for his initiative to direct the attorney general to go to court to try to overturn spending-limit Initiative 601.

I-601, approved by voters in 1993, is the subject of Eyman's latest initiative. The measure limits state spending increases to inflation plus the rate of population growth, but Eyman says numerous amendments in Olympia have exempted hundreds of millions of dollars from the limits.

Eyman's new initiative would restore the initial limits, effective after the Legislature adopts the new budget this year. He also said that in the future, under his latest plan, lawmakers would need a two-thirds vote in both houses to boost taxes or fees -- or a simple majority in Olympia and a public vote.

Earlier versions of the proposal would also have applied to cities and counties. But Eyman said he wanted to focus the initiative on restoring I-601.

Former House GOP leader John Pennington, now a Bush appointee as regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, praised the plan. "If we hadn't had 601, we might have had a $4 billion deficit, rather than $2 billion ... and if it hadn't been amended so many times, our deficit would have been significantly smaller."

The secretary of state's office confirmed the initiative had been designated I-807.

Eyman, a conservative populist who has become the state's leading practitioner of initiative politics, brushed off the criticism and predicted a "tsunami" of support for his latest plan.

He and co-sponsors Jack and Mike Fagan, a father-son duo from Spokane, have created a new campaign committee, Voters Want More Choices, to succeed the old Permanent Offense group. The three have said they may draw a salary, beginning this summer, if their new initiative qualifies for the ballot.

It's Eyman's fifth year of running initiatives. He has passed at least one ballot measure each year, starting with $30 car tabs in 1999. In November, voters approved I-776, to roll back some car-tab taxes, including revenue for Sound Transit in central Puget Sound.

Sinderman called the latest initiative "Tim Eyman's annual red herring, something to raise money and to get his face on television."

Sinderman touted an initiative to ban per-signature payments to petition gatherers.

"Voter signatures should not be bought and sold as a commodity," said Pat Thompson of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, a sponsor. "The initiative process has been hijacked and corrupted by profiteers and bounty hunters."

Zemke offered five initiatives, including the one challenging the constitutionality of I-601. Others would establish a commission to review initiatives' constitutionality before any vote and would require sponsors to identify where budget cuts should be made to deal with tax-limit measures.

The ideas will go to the Legislature as bill proposals before backers launch an active initiative campaign, Zemke said.

Lobbyist King is pushing a constitutional amendment to create a "rainy day" reserve fund. The current "rainy day" reserve was created by statute and is fairly easy for lawmakers to tap.

Darren Schoen of Seattle wants to rename Washington as Cascadia.

Seattle retiree David Whitman, 85, paid $75 to float 15 initiatives to address his pet peeves. He'd abolish special school levies, limit all politicians to one two-year term, create a two-week campaign season and ban all campaign contributions, limit interest to 5 percent per year, abolish the state liquor monopoly, regulate locksmiths and eliminate taxes on couples with income of less than $90,000.

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