Tim Eyman spinning talking points
Tim Eyman pitches Initiative 517 at a press conference (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

In the late 1990s, before he became a promi­nent sales­man of destruc­tive right wing ini­tia­tives, Tim Eyman was a sell­er of wrist­watch­es to fra­ter­ni­ties. After dis­cov­er­ing just how lucra­tive sell­ing ini­tia­tives to wealthy con­ser­v­a­tive donors could be, Eyman aban­doned his wrist­watch busi­ness and became a full-time, rich­ly com­pen­sat­ed ini­tia­tive pitch­man — an occu­pa­tion he con­tin­ues to hold.

Some­thing that’s played a big role in keep­ing Eyman in busi­ness for over fif­teen years is Wash­ing­ton State’s hor­ri­bly regres­sive tax struc­ture, which is the worst in the nation. We have a tax code that requires mid­dle and low income fam­i­lies to pay a much larg­er per­cent­age of their income in dues to the state than wealthy families.

This bro­ken tax code has been the gift that keeps on giv­ing for Tim Eyman, in two impor­tant ways. First, it helps keep the gears of his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry lubri­cat­ed with cash. Wealthy right wing donors like liv­ing in a state where they can get what amounts to a free ride, and they’re only too hap­py to open their check­books for Tim, who uses some of their mon­ey to qual­i­fy destruc­tive schemes for the bal­lot to keep it that way, while pock­et­ing the rest for him­self as profit.

Sec­ond, it results in an elec­torate more recep­tive to Eyman’s ini­tia­tives. If tax oblig­a­tions were fair in Wash­ing­ton and peo­ple were asked to pay accord­ing to their means, there would be less of an appetite for schemes to evis­cer­ate our com­mon wealth and wreck gov­ern­ment. Eyman’s fol­low­ers would still be enthu­si­as­tic, of course, but they’re only a frac­tion of the elec­torate. If Eyman can’t win at the bal­lot at least some of the time, his pow­er and influ­ence dis­ap­pears. He knows that.

That’s why Tim fears pro­gres­sive tax reform. It’s his worst night­mare. Were we to make our tax code fair­er, it’d be very bad for his busi­ness. He might even have to find a new (and pos­si­bly less lucra­tive) source of income.

Though Tim claims that Wash­ing­ton vot­ers are extreme­ly hos­tile to the idea of an income tax and would nev­er go for it, it still real­ly, real­ly, real­ly both­ers him when our state’s mass media give pro­gres­sives space to talk about the idea, because he fears the pos­si­bil­i­ty that we’ll be suc­cess­ful in edu­cat­ing the pub­lic about the mer­its of adopt­ing a state-lev­el tax that is based on abil­i­ty to pay.

Hence, Tim’s email this morning:

To:  Our thou­sands of sup­port­ers through­out the state (cc’d to the media, house & sen­ate mem­bers, and Governor)

From: Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, & Mike Fagan [con­tact info redacted]

RE: “Tim Eyman wrecked the state gov­ern­men­t’s abil­i­ty to man­age its busi­ness” says push­er of state income tax

There’s a huge push right now for the Leg­is­la­ture to impose a new state income tax (rea­son #1 that we make sure Ini­tia­tive 1366 pass­es in Novem­ber). A local lib­er­al colum­nist in today’s Everett Her­ald is sali­vat­ing over a new $5 bil­lion PER YEAR tax increase (to put a $5 bil­lion annu­al tax increase in per­spec­tive, he’d have to raise the statewide sales tax to 15% to get that kind of money).

He writes:  “You can’t just mid­dle through to get $5 bil­lion … it would be incred­i­bly easy to get this mon­ey, if we had the polit­i­cal lead­er­ship will­ing to do so … look across I‑405 to Red­mond or to the tony neigh­bor­hoods of Hunts Point and Med­i­na.  Note the new build­ings, new cars, new remod­els, new hous­es, and real­ize that is just the tip of the ice­berg of new income and wealth in our state.  The ben­e­fi­cia­ries, indeed the tak­ers, of this wealth … we don’t tax income at all.”

The col­umn Eyman is refer­ring to, which he does­n’t prop­er­ly cite, let alone both­er to link to, is this sen­si­ble piece from Eco­nom­ic Oppor­tu­ni­ty Insti­tute Exec­u­tive Direc­tor John Bur­bank (State income tax would fix school fund­ing and much more).

(The sub­ject line of Eyman’s email is not from John’s col­umn at all, by the way, but from an August 12th let­ter to the edi­tor of The Her­ald which Eyman does­n’t cite. This is par for the course; Eyman has always been slop­py with attribution. )

John’s premise is that we could prop­er­ly fund edu­ca­tion from preschool to col­lege if we levied a state income tax as the cen­ter­piece of a reform effort. From his op-ed:

How much rev­enue would a pro­gres­sive income tax pro­vide for pub­lic ser­vices? First exempt $50,000 of income. Then put in place effec­tive tax rates of 2 per­cent for a $100,000 house­hold, 3.5 per­cent for a $200,000 house­hold, 5 per­cent for a $500,000 house­hold, 6.25 per­cent for a mil­lion dol­lar house­hold, and 8.125 per­cent for a $2 mil­lion house­hold. That would raise $7.5 billion.

Now let’s do the math:

  • $7.5 bil­lion in new revenue,
  • Minus $3 bil­lion for K‑12 education,
  • Minus $1.5 bil­lion for high­er edu­ca­tion tuition,
  • Minus $500 mil­lion for ear­ly child­hood education.

That leaves $2.5 bil­lion on the table. With that, we could take a bite out of our regres­sive tax sys­tem by drop­ping the sales tax by 1.5 cents. That would cost about $1.5 bil­lion. And that leaves $1 bil­lion a year for oth­er pub­lic ser­vices and a reserve.

This is actu­al­ly a very mod­est pro­pos­al, which would raise bad­ly need­ed rev­enue for the state while eas­ing the state’s depen­den­cy on the sales tax. Low­er­ing the sales tax would reduce tax oblig­a­tions for Wash­ing­ton’s mid­dle and low income fam­i­lies, who again pay much more of their income in tax­es than wealthy fam­i­lies do.

Though John’s pro­pos­al would low­er the sales tax in 2017 by as much as Sce­nario 1 of Tim Eyman’s hostage-tak­ing I‑1366, Eyman did­n’t both­er to men­tion that aspect of it. Instead, he pro­ceed­ed to take great offense at the very pro­gres­sive, very sen­si­ble idea of ask­ing wealthy peo­ple to pay their fair share:

The lust, the envy, the wan­ton cov­et­ing of oth­ers’ pos­ses­sions ooz­ing from his col­umn feels incred­i­bly filthy and unseemly.

Just because some peo­ple have things they’ve earned does­n’t give oth­ers the right to take it.

There is no lust or wan­ton cov­et­ing in John’s col­umn. That’s whol­ly imag­ined on Tim’s part. What’s tru­ly filthy and unseem­ly are Tim’s destruc­tive ini­tia­tives and tox­ic pol­i­tics. Tim has some nerve call­ing some­body else’s writ­ing filthy, giv­en his pen­chant for pet­ty name call­ing and cir­cu­la­tion of dis­gust­ing memes.

In the por­tion of the col­umn that Tim excerpts and jeers at, John is allud­ing to the impor­tant truth that there are no self-made men or women in Amer­i­ca.

Every entre­pre­neur, every busi­nessper­son, every suc­cess­ful investor uses the pub­lic’s infra­struc­ture that the tax­pay­ers paid for to make their mon­ey, whether that’s the Inter­net, sea­ports and air­ports, the inter­state high­way sys­tem, research con­duct­ed by our pub­licly owned uni­ver­si­ties, or the courts (the vast major­i­ty of civ­il cas­es in our courts con­cern busi­ness dis­putes and cor­po­rate law).

With­out tax­es, we don’t get schools, police and fire pro­tec­tion, roads and tran­sit, or any of the oth­er pub­lic goods we use in our dai­ly lives. These are things we could­n’t afford as indi­vid­u­als. It is only by pool­ing our resources togeth­er as a peo­ple that we can afford them. It is patri­ot­ic to be a tax­pay­er and to pay one’s dues.

If nobody pays their dues, the vital pub­lic ser­vices that sup­port our econ­o­my col­lapse — and our econ­o­my goes with it.

Tim end­ed his email as he always does — by exhort­ing his sup­port­ers to give him more mon­ey. Suc­cess of his hostage-tak­ing I‑1366, he claimed, will shut down dis­cus­sion of a state income tax. As Eyman put it: “The over­whelm­ing pas­sage of Ini­tia­tive 1366 will be the best way to repu­di­ate this kind of talk.”

So much for free speech.

I have no doubt that Tim will soon end up read­ing this blog post, so I’ll just address him direct­ly with a few clos­ing remarks.

Lis­ten, Tim, the same First Amend­ment that gives you the right to spew your garbage gives us the right to talk about mak­ing our state a bet­ter place to live, work, play, and go on vaca­tion. We’re not going to stop talk­ing about pro­gres­sive tax reform, no mat­ter what hap­pens with your hostage-tak­ing I‑1366. We’re not going to stop lay­ing the ground­work for action, either.

In fact, your attack on John Bur­bank’s op-ed mere­ly rein­forces our moti­va­tion to help ensure the con­ver­sa­tion about pro­gres­sive tax reform expands to become more preva­lent and inclu­sive in the years ahead.

Your ini­tia­tives are all about pro­tect­ing the rich from hav­ing to pay their fair share and keep­ing our tax code bro­ken so there will always be grist for future schemes to harm the gov­ern­ment that belongs to all of us as a peo­ple. You claim to be a cham­pi­on of the com­mon man, but that is a com­plete crock, as any­one can see from look­ing at the PDC reports of your ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry’s many com­mit­tees.

You’re relent­less, to be sure, but so are we. NPI just cel­e­brat­ed twelve years of con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tion and devel­op­ment. We’re here for the long haul, and we will not only main­tain our per­ma­nent defense against your ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry, but work ener­get­i­cal­ly to reform the bro­ken tax code that facil­i­tates its existence.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “Tim Eyman confirms his worst nightmare: Progressive tax reform for Washington State”

  1. I sup­port a pro­gres­sive tax change that will low­er the sales tax. Cou­pling an income tax with a reduc­tion of one or two cents in the sales tax is the kind of relief we need.

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