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Bainbridge bests I-722 in challenge
"If you're keeping score, the tally now reads:Bainbridge Island 2, Tim Eyman 0.Last Friday, Thurston County Judge Christine Pomeroy declared Eyman's Initiative 722 unconstitutional.The Mukilteo watch salesman's tax-cutting initiative froze property valuations at 1999 levels, limited spending increases to two percent annually, and refunded all taxes aimed at recouping revenue lost to Initiative 695, which repealed the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.This was a victory for fairness in the initiative process and for taxpayers who would have had to pay more, said attorney Thomas Ahearne, a Bainbridge resident and partner at the Seattle law firm of Foster Pepper and Shefelman.The city of Bainbridge Island and Mayor Dwight Sutton challenged the constitutionality of the initiative, which received some 56 percent of the votes statewide last November, but which island voters rejected by a 72-28 margin. A number of municipalities statewide challenged the measure, and those actions were all consolidated in Olympia before Judge Pomeroy. Ahearne was selected from among the challengers' attorneys to make the lead arguments to Pomeroy.After hearing arguments, the judge read her ruling against the measure from the bench.Because no facts were in dispute, the case was decided purely on the legal issues presented, with no trial. In such a situation, prompt rulings are not uncommon.A judge who has read the briefs and studied the law basically listens to oral argument to see if anything changes his or her mind, Ahearne said.The opponents of the initiative argued that it contained multiple topics, which the state constitution forbids. They also claimed that the valuation-freeze provision would shift the tax burden from rapidly appreciating properties to those that were not gaining value, or were doing so more slowly.The guys on the waterfront didn't have to pay as much, but the guys in the interior would have to pay more, Ahearne said.Mayor Sutton was an individual plaintiff in his capacity as a private citizen. The mayor claimed that his property is appreciating more slowly than other tracts, and that he would be unfairly burdened by the value-freeze.The measure, if implemented, would have cost the city some $2.5 million in 2000 and $4.5 million in 2001 out of a budget of a $12 million budget. The measure hit the city particularly hard because it rolled back and froze property values, limiting the base on which property taxes are levied. Because island property values have risen more rapidly than city spending, the city has been able to maintain or reduce its assessment rates. But artificially dropping the valuations throws that arithmetic out of whack.The measure never took effect because Judge Pomeroy issued a preliminary injunction against implementing the measure pending resolution of the legal challenges.Ahearne said he expects the Supreme Court to consider the constitutional question by early summer. But because the legal issues are so similar to those raised by Initiative 695, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, the schedule might be much faster.The court might say 'we went through all this three or four months ago' and rule on the briefs, without argument, Ahearne said. "