News Clips— Taxes on the ballot

DESPITE A FEISTY opposition campaign, it looks like Washington voters will have another Tim Eyman-penned initiative on the ballot this fall.

Eyman, the head of the political organization Permanent Offense, has turned in more than enough signed petitions to qualify Initiative 747 for the November ballot. This initiative would amend a little-known state law that now allows cities and counties to increase property taxes by 6 percent each year without a public vote. Under I-747, the annual allowed increase is lowered to 1 percent.

It's a simple approach for Eyman, whose last two initiatives included complex provisions that led to lengthy court challenges. I-747 is "clearly the most moderate thing we've ever done," he says. If politicians want larger property tax increases, they'll simply have to ask the voters, adds Eyman.

Qualifying for the ballot is a bigger victory this time for Permanent Offense because the organization had to weather a campaign of radio ads mounted by the No on I-747 Committee, a group largely funded by public employee unions. The campaign was memorable because the ads took issue with Eyman himself, characterizing I-747 as "another Tim Eyman initiative threatening our communities." Critics charged that essential services would be squeezed by sharply limiting routine tax increases.

Eyman says personalizing this political battle was a poor tactic. "Voters vote on the issue, not on the sponsor," he notes.

Initiative 747 will have company on the ballot, ironically, from a measure that would raise taxes for a specific group of citizens—cigarette smokers. Initiative 773 would jack up cigarette taxes by 60 cents per pack, giving Washington the nation's highest per pack tax rate of $1.42. The funds raised would be used to pay for increased enrollment in the state's Basic Health Care plan for low-income citizens.

Although health care providers made donations, the I-773 campaign has largely been organized and funded by anti-smoking groups. The American Cancer Society provided almost one-third of the campaign's war chest with a $100,000 donation. Other big givers include the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids ($50,000) and the American Lung Association of Washington ($10,000).

James Bush

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