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A bankrupt Tim Eyman is back in business with $30 car tab initiative

AP FILE -- Tim Eyman.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman, when last heard from last month, was headed for divorce and filing for bankruptcy to shield his assets from a $1.8 million civil corruption suit brought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

But reports of his political demise, given bad tidings and a hiatus of Eyman ballot initiatives, have always been premature.

Eyman will be back in business on Thursday, and back in the limelight he loves.

He is returning to the cause that launched him in 1999. On Thursday morning, Eyman and a supporting cast will file signatures on an initiative that would restore $30 car tabs and gut financing for Sound Transit and local transit.

"They (sic) will be plenty of bright orange T-shirts and smiling faces," he said in a message to the media.

Eyman already filed 289,000 signatures for Initiative 976 last November. The initiative needs 259,622 valid voter signatures, but the Secretary of State has advised a cushion of 325,000 signatures.

I-976 would cap annual vehicle registration fees at $30, roll back vehicle weight fees set by the Legislature and repeal voter-approved car tab taxes to pay for Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion expansion designed to take the light rail from Everett to Tacoma, to West Seattle and Ballard, and east to Redmond.

I-976 is an initiative to the Legislature. It would first go to a hostile House and Senate controlled by Democrats. They would have the choice of passing it into law, taking no action and allowing it to move onto the November 2019, ballot, or passing an alternative which would go on the ballot with Eyman's measure.

Andrew Villeneuve, who heads the Northwest Progressive Institute, has been organizing opposition to Eyman for a decade. Although an active Democrat, Villeneuve is hoping to field bipartisan opposition to I-976.

"The impacts are rather grave," said Villeneuve. "Amtrak Cascades and freight mobility projects would be gutted. Dozens of cities would lose money for road resurfacing and maintenance. Seattle's $80 fee for Metro would go away.

"And, of course, Sound Transit would lose an important source of funding for its voter-approved projects."

Eyman has a mixed record on initiatives. He has carried the day -- only to be thwarted by the Washington State Supreme Court -- with measures to require a two-thirds majority of both houses in the Legislature to raise revenue or close tax loopholes.

He has been less successful in attacks on Sound Transit, and was decisively defeated in a measure that would have blocked light rail across Western Washington.

In email exchanges with SeattlePI on Wednesday, Eyman declined to discuss specific impacts of I-976 on Sound Transit and Metro. Instead, he sent a fundraising broadside to his followers claiming that "they're" (government agencies) "sitting on a whopping $3.23 billion tax surplus."

The I-976 effort takes place against a backdrop of legal problems and allegations of money laundering by for-profit Eyman front groups.

Acting on a 76-page investigative report by the state Public Disclosure Commission, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has charged that Eyman illegally and secretly move donations between two of his 2012 initiative campaigns.

The AG has accused Eyman of taking $308,000 in kickbacks from the firm he hired to collect signatures.

Ferguson has filed a civil suit seeking $1.8 million in penalties, and reimbursement of the money Eyman took from the signature firm. He has relentlessly pursued Eyman for not fully disclosing his financial records.

The bankruptcy action has put a temporary halt to Ferguson's legal pursuit. The filing by Eyman, under federal law, prompts an automatic stay of civil proceedings.

Eyman has also launched an online petition against pay hikes for Gov. Jay Inslee -- he once called Inslee "a lying whore" -- AG Ferguson and State Supreme Court justices. The "GiveThemNothing.com" petition features a cartoon showing a politician shoving money into his mouth.

The pay hikes have been proposed by the state's Citizen Salary Commission. Eyman has said he will launch a referendum campaign to roll them back.

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