$30 tabs are signed into law

OLYMPIA - Thirty-dollar car tabs are now the law of the land in Washington state, and will stay that way no matter how the state Supreme Court rules on Initiative 695 later this year.

Gov. Gary Locke yesterday signed a bill that puts the heart of I-695 into state law, 2 1/2 weeks after a King County Superior Court judge declared the measure unconstitutional.

"It's clear the people of the state of Washington did not like the high license-tab fees," Locke said. "We need to make sure there's no uncertainty in the minds of the public that we might go back to those high fees."

Judge Robert Alsdorf's ruling had left the $30 tabs in place pending the high court's ruling, but Alsdorf threw out the rest of I-695, which required voter approval for tax and fee increases.

Initiative 695 sponsor Tim Eyman said he had "enormous mixed emotions" about yesterday's bill signing, since he doesn't believe Locke is a true believer in I-695.

"This violated every principle Gary Locke has always held as a Democrat," he said. "He had to ask, `Do I stand on principle, or go for self-preservation?' Gary Locke said, `Hey, those $30 tabs are a pretty good idea, and I support them.' "

In fact, most politicians, regardless of whether they loved or hated I-695, wanted to cater to the wishes of voters, who strongly supported the initiative in November.

But lawmakers are divided on whether to revive the part of I-695 that requires voter approval for any increases in taxes or fees. The governor and many other Democrats oppose it.

And restoring it likely would require a state constitutional amendment, which takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. It probably won't happen this session, despite warnings from Eyman that failing to restore his measure in its entirety would be political suicide in the fall elections.

"It is inevitable that the people of Washington will get 100 percent of 695 one way or another," Eyman said. "There are a thousand different ways to skin this cat, whether it's the court approving of 695, or the legislators getting off their duffs, or us running another initiative in the future."

Meanwhile, lawmakers still haven't done what they were supposed to do in their 30-day special session, now only a week away from its deadline. They're trying to figure out how to deal with the $750 million annual blow to the state budget that resulted from eliminating the lucrative license tax and replacing it with $30 tabs.

They can't decide how to best find money for road projects, ferry operations and other transportation-related issues that took the biggest budget hits when I-695 passed.

Their budget talks hit a low yesterday as the House and Senate traded letters sharing ideas for where they could withdraw $40 million to pay for transportation needs.

The Senate opposes the House's plan to get the money from the general fund, the state's account that pays for everyday operations.

The Senate yesterday suggested using federal dollars, beer-tax revenues, which pay for health-related services, and money from the public-works account. The House rejected that plan, and the Senate sent word that it won't budge.

"Things are very bad," said Rep. Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, the House Republican budget writer.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau reporter David Postman contributed to this article.