Tim Eyman's I-960—which mandates a two-thirds vote by the legislature and an advisory vote by the public to pass tax increases—prevailed on Election Day. But like every Eyman initiative, this one has major constitutional problems.
But why waste time taking the case to the Washington State Supreme Court? Yes, the judges are likely to throw it out. But the Democrats are just as likely to jilt their base and rescue Eyman by writing 960 into law.
That's exactly what Democratic governor Christine Gregoire recommended last week when yet another Eyman initiative, I-747 (a 1 percent annual property-tax cap passed in 2001), was tossed by the state supreme court.
Clearly, Gregoire thinks voters are clamoring for tax reform. But if voters are clamoring for tax reform, and I-747 has been on the books for five years, then obviously, I-747 doesn't work. Why go out of your way to resurrect it?
Eyman's fix doesn't work because it keeps our regressive system in place—lower-income homeowners spend 6 percent of their income in property taxes, compared to 2.3 percent for wealthy homeowners.
Rather than trembling in her shoes about the popularity of I-747, Gregoire should recognize the reality on the ground: I-747 has failed and people want real solutions. She should take this opportunity to craft a new solution that doesn't place an unfair property-tax burden on the poor and middle class.
One progressive proposal gets to the root of the problem. Known as a "circuit breaker," it ties property-tax payments to income. The idea works like this: When property-tax bills reach a certain percentage of a homeowner's income, they get a tax credit. A revenue-neutral proposal developed by a liberal think tank, the Washington Budget & Policy Center, would give lower-income brackets a 9.6 percent tax cut, while the highest income brackets would get a 2 percent increase. That's likely to calm voters down.
And it would accomplish another political goal that should be important to Democrats like Gregoire. It would pull the rug out from under Eyman, rather than getting a chair for him just as the court is knocking him down.
Oh, and another political goal Gregoire might want to keep in mind: Kissing up to Eyman doesn't play well with her base. "It shows poor judgment," says Knoll Lowney, the activist attorney who got 747 tossed. "Isn't that why she almost lost last time? If she's going to win reelection she has to turn out her base. The only voices calling for renewing I-747 are in Rossi's camp."