Eyman vs. Constitution

YOU'RE GOING TO SUE the yahoos! Good for you, Sound Transit!

Last week, the Sound Transit board decided to join the lawsuit against Initiative 776, Tim Eyman's blatantly unconstitutional law passed by 51.5 percent of Washington's voters in November.

For the past month, I've had to listen to Eyman spew his nonsense while lawyers prepared the court challenges. A couple of choice examples from Eyman: Sound Transit board chair and King County Executive Ron "Sims claims a lack of tax dollars is causing the closure of parks and pools in King County, [but] he turns around and hires an 'O.J. Simpson dream team' of lawyers using King and Pierce county tax dollars to pay for Sound Transit's legal battle." And, "Seattle Sims' lust of our tax dollars far outweighs his respect for voters or for the law."

Leave aside the disgusting race-baiting involved in comparing a hardworking elected official to O.J. and the incredible hypocrisy of Eyman complaining about the diminution of services. The lying initiative king's missives turn a constitutional issue on its head.

It is Eyman and the people who vote for his unlawful initiatives whose lust to put chump change back into their pockets causes them to ignore the rule of law. The Sound Transit board is using our tax dollars to enforce the constitution. That's as it should be. As Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit board member John Ladenburg points out, when he took his oath of office, he swore to uphold the constitution. And I expect him to use all of the power at his disposal to do nothing less.

DON'T MISUNDERSTAND ME. This has nothing to do with love on my part for Sound Transit—I'm still not convinced a system of elevated rail or buses wouldn't be better than the agency's plan of surface light rail. I'm not even sure the agency can deliver its scaled-back light rail from downtown to Tukwila. And if someone put a legally written initiative on the ballot that would repeal Sound Transit's existence, I'm not sure how I would vote.

But let's make an important distinction between Eyman and Sound Transit: He has blatantly violated the constitution with two of his earlier initiatives, I-695 (reducing license-plate fees) and I-722 (cutting property taxes), and it appears he has done so again this year. Sound Transit, while I might disagree with its transportation philosophy and criticize its performance, is operating under the rule of law. The legality of Sound Transit's plan has been tested by Save Our Valley, a group that has the reasonable, albeit expensive, request that light rail run in a tunnel through the Rainier Valley of Seattle, and Sane Transit, an organization that questions the agency's whole approach. Both times, Sound Transit prevailed in court. I don't expect this latest lawsuit to have a different outcome.

There are several legal arguments to make against I-776, but let's take the most basic one. Both the state and the federal constitutions are clear that the government cannot pass a law that impairs a contract. The constitutional protection of contracts is not a hot-button issue like freedom of speech or the right to bear arms, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. Think about the implications: As Tom Ahearne, one of the lawyers suing Eyman, points out, if the government could pass a law changing an existing contract, the disruption to everyday life would be extraordinary. Ahearne gives the example of building a bridge: State signs contract with bridge builder; bridge builder completes span, presents bill; state passes new law outlawing payments for bridge construction. Things would quickly fall apart.

IN 1999, SOUND TRANSIT sold $350 million worth of bonds to pay for express buses, commuter rail, and light rail. The bond contracts specify the sources of revenue that will be used to guarantee that the bondholders are repaid. I-776 eliminates one of those revenue sources, namely the motor-vehicle excise tax.

In this case, the voters acted as the government. That's what we do when we pass initiatives. We voided the contract with those bondholders.

It doesn't matter whether it is people who are elected officials who pass unconstitutional laws through governmental bodies or people who vote at the ballot box who create unlawful statutes. Neither behavior is acceptable.

Our state and federal constitutions will prevail over Eyman's latest handiwork. We should applaud public officials who have the guts to ensure that it happens.


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