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Court denies Eyman’s challenge to I-1185 fiscal impact study

August 24, 2012
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Tim Eyman’s legal challenge to the state’s fiscal analysis of his latest ballot initiative was denied on Friday morning by a Thurston County Superior Court judge.

A Thurston County judge on Friday morning denied a legal challenge from Initiative 1185 author Tim Eyman to the state’s financial analysis of his latest ballot measure.

Eyman, acting as his own attorney, last week requested a writ of mandamus against the state when it announced that a lengthy financial impact statement must appear on the official Washington State Voter’s Pamphlet this fall stating flatly that the measure, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes and a simple majority vote
of the Legislature for fee increases, would drain millions from the public coffers.

I-1185, by all accounts, is nearly identical to Initiative 1053, which the voters approved by a wide margin in 2010. In that case, the published financial impact statement consisted of one sentence advising voters it would be revenue neutral.

This time around, the financial impact statement was three pages long and concluded it would cost the state millions in tax revenue.

Eyman argued that since the two ballot measures had the same intent and nearly identical wording, the previous financial impact statement should be used again this year. Or, failing that, the document should include a disclaimer noting that the initiative’s authors disputed the accuracy of the analysis and that voters should take its conclusions with a grain of salt.

“If (the Office of Financial Management) is unwilling to describe I-1185 accurately,” he said, “it should – at a minimum – disclose to voters that its assumptions are not necessarily correct and are subject to dispute. Otherwise, voters will assume that the assumptions made by a supposedly independent office … are going to be making valid assumptions about the measure.”

Superior Court Judge James J. Dixon acknowledged Eyman had raised some provocative points, but ultimately concluded the OFM was required by law to conduct a financial impact study and publish its findings in the voter’s pamphlet. The fact that Eyman and the measure’s supporters disagreed with those findings did not change the requirement in the eyes of the law.

“The state has a ministerial obligation to do such a study; it isn’t discretionary,” Dixon said. “A discretionary conclusion can be appealed, but a ministerial conclusion cannot.”

The judge said Eyman might have argued against the financial impact statement on the grounds its findings were “arbitrary and capricious” but, “You didn’t make that case.”

Eyman, in his rebuttal statement, had made a similar argument, though.

“We concede there is no statutory authority to challenge an initiative’s financial statement,” he said. “But up until a few years ago, the state had no authority to approve the wording of a ballot measure’s title. Now it’s required, and all it took was one judge who decided that’s the way it should be.”

Eyman said afterwards he hoped voters wouldn’t be misled by the financial analysis and would approve 1185 just as they have two previous two-thirds majority ballot measures.

“The will of the people at this point is crystal clear,” he said. “It’s the Legislature that doesn’t understand, not the voters. I have no doubt they’ll approve this measure just as they have the others before it. And hopefully this time the Legislature will follow the law instead of finding ways to circumvent it.”

Eyman also said he had no regrets about opting to represent himself in Friday’s court proceeding.

“I don’t think it would have made much difference,” he said. “The judge had obviously decided what he was going to do before we got here, and I don’t think a more eloquent lawyer would have changed his mind.

“We tried it that way last time we lost in court,” he said. “We paid a lawyer $6,000 back then and we still lost. The way I figure it, I can lose for free.”

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