Eyman Car-Tab Initiative Fails To Qualify For Ballot

OLYMPIA - Washington's foremost initiative promoter, Tim Eyman, has failed to qualify his initiative to restore $30 annual car registrations for the November ballot.

Coupled with the earlier demise of his challenge of the state's new gay-rights law, this means Eyman won't have any initiatives on this year's statewide ballot.

"Basically he squandered $400,000 (in campaign contributions) and if I were one of his funders, I would ask serious questions about how he failed to qualify this for the ballot," said Mark Funk, spokesman for the car tab initiative's opposition coalition.

"I think he has damaged himself severely."

Eyman did not return calls requesting comment Thursday, but in an e-mail to reporters, conceded defeat but indicated he's unbowed.

By his estimate, he'll fail by about 4,000 valid signatures to meet the minimum of 224,880.

"That's really close and the lesson we've learned is to work even harder from now on," Eyman said.

"This experience has also inspired us to rededicate ourselves to provide the voters with a greater voice in the political process."

The Mukilteo activist has made initiatives a cottage industry, sponsoring successful initiatives rolling back affirmative action, ending expensive car registration fees and capping property tax growth.

His last success was last year's initiative to authorize the country's most sweeping use of performance audits on state and local government agencies and programs.

His failure to qualify for this year's ballot leaves Washington voters with three statewide measures to vote on in November. They deal with the estate tax, property rights and alternative energy sources.

The secretary of state's office is expected to announce next week that a hand count of the 266,006 signatures Eyman turned in did not include sufficient valid signatures to earn a place on the ballot.

Officials declined comment Thursday because the count and a follow up certification process were not complete, but a progress report obtained through a public records request showed that it is no longer statistically possible for Eyman to secure a ballot spot.

Eyman had previously failed a random test of his petitions, but the state then hired crews to do a line-by-line check of every signature.

According to a daily accounting report, the state elections division had counted 42,772 duplicate or invalid signatures as of Thursday afternoon. That was an error rate of about 18 percent, not atypical but above the 15 percent falloff that Eyman could withstand.

State checkers had reviewed 247,043 of the 266,006 signatures Eyman turned in, declaring 204,271 valid. Even if all the remaining signatures turn out to be valid, a statistical impossibility, he wouldn't meet the minimum of 224,880.

Eyman's $30 car-tab measure, I-917, would have repealed weight fees and other taxes passed by the 2005 Legislature as part of an $8.5 billion transportation package, as well as some local taxes, such as the Sound Transit regional vehicle tax. Eyman's measure would have removed an estimated $2.7 billion from state projects and revamped the way state government calculates a car's value for tax purposes.

It was Eyman's second big setback this year. Earlier, he failed to gather enough signatures to force a public vote on the new state law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination.

In his e-mail, Eyman said he'll turn his attention to following a lawsuit involving an earlier car-tab initiative and an appeal of a "goofy" lower court ruling that threw out his property tax initiative.

Eyman opponents also have a court date next month for their challenge of about 3,000 pages of I-917 signatures - out of 17,000 total - that didn't carry the signatures of the petition gatherer. Funk said that even though Eyman's initiative already is being disqualified, opponents don't believe the issue is moot.

Eyman also is working on the opposition campaign for a Seattle property tax ballot measure.

"As for next year," he wrote, "We're still getting feedback from our supporters and analyzing and evaluating what our 2007 initiative will be. We're very excited about the future and we are committed to serving as taxpayer advocates."

Funk said a broad coalition had organized to campaign against I-917 if necessary.

"We couldn't be happier about this," he said after hearing about Eyman's failure. "This has never been about Tim Eyman. It is about preserving the state's transportation budget and the safety projects and congestion relief that would have been in danger."