"Ahearne 2, Eyman 0A Bainbridge attorney reflects on his wins vs. the initiave sponsor."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:40 PM
"Besting Tim Eyman in court has been a mixed blessing for attorney Tom Ahearne.On the plus side, judicial voiding of two anti-tax initiatives has helped stave off potentially calamitous cutbacks in city services.On the minus side, Ahearne says, initative sponsor Eyman may have learned how to write legislation that will withstand constitutional scrutiny.I've looked at Eyman's new initiative, and I really can't see any constitutional problems with it, said Ahearne, who led the court challenges against I-695 and I-722 for Bainbridge Island and other Washington cities and counties. I think that measure will have to be defeated on the merits by the voters.Island resident Ahearne, a partner with the Seattle law firm of Foster Pepper & Shefelman, sued on behalf of Bainbridge Island and several other cities to overturn Initiative 722, a property-tax limitation measure promoted by the Mukilteo fraternity-watch salesman.After voters passed I-722 inNovember, a number of governments sued, claiming the measure was unconstitutional. Those suits were consolidated in Thurston County, before Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy. Pomeroy made the case a class action, making all of the state's cities one group of plaintiffs. Ahearne became the lead attorney.On Feb. 23, Pomeroy declared I-722 unconstitutional, a decision that may be appealed to the state Supreme Court.The initiative attempted to limit property taxes by rolling back valuations to 1999 and capping increases at 2 percent per year and by limiting spending increases to two percent per year. Further, the initiative required governments to refund all tax increases imposed in anticipation of Initiative 695, Eyman's 1999 initiative that repealed the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. Pomeroy said I-722 violated the state constitutional provision limiting initiatives to a single subject.She also said the valuation freeze violated the principle that all property must be taxed in proportion to its value, by artificially depressing the value of rapidly appreciating properties. The effect would be to shift the tax burden from appreciating land to static-value land.(Kitsap) County Assessor Jim Avery did a study for us showing that Bainbridge would have received a 28 percent property tax cut under I-722, Ahearne said, while taxes in the rest of Kitsap County would have gone up.Yet Bainbridge overwhelmingly rejected I-722, while it passed in the rest of Kitsap County. That phenomenon of voting against self-interest prevailed statewide, Ahearne said, with affluent areas voting against it and non-affluent areas voting in favor.This was the cruel hoax of 722, Ahearne said. The people it was sold to were getting screwed.Civic activismRepresenting the city's interests in court is in some sense a resumption of Ahearne's civic activism. After moving to Bainbridge in 1987, he was active in the home-rule effort that incorporated the island as a city, and in early efforts to draft a comprehensive plan.Ahearne was born in New Mexico to a military family that lived all over, as he puts it. He went to Notre Dame for undergraduate school, got a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1984, then spent two years clerking for a federal judge in Houston, where he met his wife.In 1986, he returned to Foster Pepper, where he had worked during his law-school summers. He is part of the litigation department, and divides his time between constitutional litigation such as the initiative challenges and representing insurance policy-holders in disputes with their insurers.It's a fun docket, he said. I get to represent the guys in the white hat most of the time.Ahearne said he has gotten a fair amount of negative mail over his challenge to I-722, from people who believe that courts are trampling citizen rights by overturning initiatives. And while Ahearne staunchly defends the need to challenge unconstitutional measures, the whole process concerns him.It pours fuel on the fire of public cynicism, he said. It's not good for people to feel alienated like that.And it is that sense of alienation from the government that Ahearne believes leads to initiatives such as the ones Eyman has sponsored. There is this us-versus-them mentality that is damaging, he said.He believes there is a better solution than what he calls sound-bite initiatives.If people don't like what the state is doing, they should run for something, he said. "