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Most agree public vote likely

The recent embarassing financial disclosures by tax-initiative king Tim Eyman appear not to have diminished the chances he will get the public vote he demanded on a statewide transportation plan.

“There is no less of an appetite for a public vote on a state transportation revenue package,” Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said just days after Eyman admitted to paying himself to work on his Permanent Offense initiative campaigns. “I can separate the person from the issue.”

In the weeks leading up to the current legislative session, Eyman had threatened to force a referendum if lawmakers didn’t send a gas tax increase proposal and overall revenue package to a vote of the people.

The threat came late last year when he filed Initiative 776, which would install local and state car tab taxes at $30 a year by rolling back three other vehicle taxes.

Port Orchard Republican Sen. Bob Oke agrees the plan will go to a public vote, although, like most other senators, he’s lukewarm about the possibility.

“Everything I’m hearing is that the House will be sending a tax package to the people,” Oke said. “I think we are abdicating our jobs by doing that. It’s a tough job.”

And made all the tougher when election-year partisan tensions have erupted in the House.

Rep. Beverly Woods, a Poulsbo Republican, says House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, doesn’t have the votes on his side of the aisle to pass a transportation package without it going to a public vote.

“We’re trying to work together, even though it hasn’t always been easy,” Woods said. “We’re trying to put together a package in the House that’s reasonable, that shows accountability, benchmarks and efficiencies.”

The House is expected to introduce an overall state package as soon as next week, just days before the Legislature reaches its halfway mark in a 60-day session. Meanwhile, lawmakers are ironing out a compromise on a regional transportation bill.

“I think that there is overwhelming evidence the public would support a gas tax as long as they have the opportunity to vote on it,” Rep. Brock Jackley, D-Manchester said. “And as long as they feel the projects listed would include things that would be relevant to their districts.”

That could prove a tough sell, since Kitsap relies so heavily on Washington State Ferries while residents elsewhere in the state don’t.

“There are a lot of projects of statewide significance located in every region of the state,” Woods said. “There are significant projects in Moses Lake, Vancouver and Spokane.”

The trick is balancing all those needs in a palatable form before state voters.

Sheldon says a state transportation package bound for the ballot box ensures fairness in whatever plan emerges from the Capitol.

“A public vote can also force a more fair transportation package,” Sheldon said. “If lawmakers know voters statewide will see the plan, they’ll be more inclined to do what’s fair for ferries and the more rural areas of counties. If the plan stays here, the package will more than likely be a King County plan.”

More than one-third of the representatives in both the House and Senate represent a part of King County and more than one-third of the voters in the entire state of Washington, according to membership rosters and Sheldon.

“The plan will have to have something for everyone in the state,” Sheldon said.

Eyman, meanwhile, is uncharacteristically absent from political landscape and hasn’t made himself available to the media.

The state Public Disclosure Commission this week announced the watchdog group plans to launch an investigation into Eyman and his campaign cash handling procedures. He released the following statement to the media:

“I’ve been doing initiatives for several years. I’ve always had a good

working relationship with the PDC,” Eyman wrote. “I will continue to cooperate with them and will make sure their questions are answered.”

Meanwhile, Eyman hasn’t been a presence at the Capitol.

I-776 co-sponsor and Kennewick resident Monte Benham has stepped up to the plate in Eyman’s absence.

Benham and others plan to meet over the weekend to determine what the next step on the campaign trail will be. They expect to host a press conference next Tuesday to announce any decisions.

Benham won’t comment whether the Permanent Offense campaign will file Son of 747 as planned at the end of the month. That measure, informally introduced by Eyman before the PDC investigation, would cap city and county general fund growth to 1 percent.

Any collections above that would automatically translate to property tax relief, according to Eyman.

Even with Eyman’s public foibles, lawmakers are still leaning toward submitting a transportation plan for public approval.

“Voter are aware of the impact of a transportation system on economic stability,” Jackley said.

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