OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman is so convinced his latest initiative attack on car tabs is a winner, he’s tapping the one source of money he can count on these days to finance the effort — his own.
Eyman said he is draining $500,000 from an investment account earmarked for retirement and using it to hire a professional signature-gathering firm to help get the proposed $30 car tab measure in front of voters. Details appear in reports filed May 10 with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
“It’s an absolute risk,” he said. “I am willing to risk a half-million dollars that this will deliver the tax relief it promises.”
Dramatic or desperate — depending on one’s perspective — the move is tacit recognition of the initiative industrial complex constructed by Eyman the past two decades has crumbled.
There is no longer a bevy of anti-tax, anti-government capitalists on which he can rely to underwrite these annual ventures. Absent this sturdy financial foundation, he must get a bunch more of his loyal followers to write checks for a bunch more than $50 to succeed.
It didn’t happen in 2016 or 2017 and, as a result, Eyman-backed initiatives to reduce car tabs didn’t come close to qualifying for the ballot.
And at the start of April when Eyman announced signature-gathering had begun for Initiative 976, the landscape looked eerily familiar.
On the policy side, he is once again pushing a measure to lower car tab fees on passenger vehicles to $30 and eliminate the voter-approved motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit. The proposed initiative also would get rid of weight fees imposed by the state and vehicle fees charged by cities for what are known as Transportation Benefit Districts.
On the money side, it again looked bleak. Voters Want More Choices, the political committee through which this and all Eyman initiative campaigns are funded, reported having only about $30,000 in the bank. It takes around $1 million these days to qualify an initiative.
Eyman said he loaned $100,000 to the committee in April and will put in another $150,000 in May. The remaining $250,000 will be funneled to the political committee’s coffers in coming months as needed, he said.
Ultimately, he said in an interview and email to supporters, it will take another half-million dollars to pay professionals to round up the 259,622 voter signatures required to qualify.
“I got them out there,” he said. “But we need to raise more to keep them out there.”
Interestingly, Citizen Solutions is the company hired to get signatures for I-976. Eyman and the firm are locked in a legal battle with Attorney General Bob Ferguson who has accused them of politically corrupt acts when they teamed up on two initiatives in 2012.
Eyman faces civil charges of secretly moving funds between the two campaigns and receiving $308,000 in kickbacks from Citizen Solutions. Eyman denies wrongdoing and the case could go to trial this fall.
Meanwhile, Eyman is pushing two initiatives this year as well. His second one would make state lawmakers subject to Washington’s public records law.
He insisted his energy — and his money — is all directed toward the car tab measure. Because it is an initiative to the Legislature, he has until Jan. 4, 2019, to get signatures. If successful, it would wind up on a ballot in November 2019.
“I’ve got faith supporters will be there to raise the additional funds,” he said. “I’ve got faith voters will pass it. I’ve got faith it is crafted well enough to deliver promised savings.”
He’s betting a bit of his future on it.
— Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter for The (Everett) Daily Herald. He can be reached at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.