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Sen. O’Ban in letter to Attorney General Ferguson: Why were you AWOL?

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, during a news conference in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

After a less-than-ideal day before the Washington State Supreme Court for Sound Transit, 28th Legislative District Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) is asking Attorney General Bob Ferguson for an explanation in a letter.

Just before oral arguments were to be heard in the lawsuit against Sound Transit over its car tab taxes, it became known that the transportation agency has not been using the 1996 vehicle valuation schedule for car tab taxes that the law demands. As a result, Ferguson’s office told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it could not appear for oral arguments later that day, where it had been set to take Sound Transit’s side.

We write to notify the Court immediately of this error. The State will not be presenting at oral argument, which will be handled by Respondent [sic] Sound Transit, and the State takes no immediate position on the implications of this issue.

Previously, the Office of the Attorney General spoke in favor of Sound Transit’s argument when the lawsuit was heard at the Pierce County Superior Court.

O’Ban: Ferguson won’t take on income tax case because he wants to be governor

For the senator, this is blatant hypocrisy when compared to another ongoing court case — the battle over the City of Seattle’s attempt to impose an income tax on residents. Article VII, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution forbids the establishment of a graduated income tax.

“He’s AWOL; he hasn’t shown up at all to defend the 1984 law that prohibits a city like Seattle from passing an income tax, or the 1930-era case that upholds the Constitution and says it prohibits an income tax,” O’Ban told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “He won’t even lift a finger to write a single brief, let alone argue, in support of taxpayers.”

As a result, O’Ban penned a letter to the attorney general.

I find your strong support of the Sound Transit law incongruous with your refusal to make any effort to defend the state and constitutional legal protections against an income tax … I can only conclude that when it comes to deciding which constitutional challenges to Washington tax laws you choose to use the power and resources of your office [for], you defend laws which increase the tax burden on Washington taxpayers, and refuse to defend laws which would protect taxpayers from new taxes.

“I think it’s incredible that he’ll show up and defend Sound Transit’s tax when it’s being challenged constitutionally, but he won’t show up and protect taxpayers against a new income tax, even though I think he’s got a duty to defend those laws,” O’Ban said.

“I think we have a really great teaching moment to look at these two different tax cases, two different laws that have constitutional challenges to them,” he continued. “The one, he shows up to protect a regressive tax against car tab taxpayers – on the other hand, he doesn’t bother to show up to defend existing law to prevent Seattle from passing an income tax.”

Ferguson’s responsibility is to his constituents, O’Ban pointed out, and Washington voters have voted down an income tax on several occasions over the years.

As a recourse, disgruntled Washington voters can use the power of the ballot box next year when Ferguson is up for reelection.

“Elections matter … this has been a great opportunity for us to realize where his priorities are, and I hope we’ll have a candidate, Democrat or Republican, who will call Ferguson on his priorities and run against him,” O’Ban said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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