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Plaintiffs’ attorney explains settlement offer in lawsuit against Sound Transit

Washington lawmakers had a chance to avoid the I-976 iceberg months ago. (File, MyNorthwest)

The class-action lawsuit against Sound Transit, presented before the Washington State Supreme Court this week, may be coming to an end.

The plaintiffs have presented Sound Transit with a settlement offer that would see the transit agency refunding $125 million to vehicle owners who have been paying heightened car tab taxes, as well as lowering license tab fees at a cost of $1 billion to the agency.

“This is a settlement offer that does reform the statute to a constitutionally permissible structure that uses rational, real-world-based car valuations that the Legislature enacted in 2006,” Joel Ard, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

The plaintiffs argue that the $54 billion ST3, passed by voters in 2016, was unconstitutional because Sound Transit was not clear to voters and legislators about how it would calculate car tab fees.

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According to the tax authorization, Sound Transit was supposed to use a 1996 vehicle valuation schedule that has since been repealed and replaced by the Legislature. However, just before this week’s oral arguments in court, it became known that Sound Transit has actually been using a 1999 valuation schedule.

Sound Transit claimed in court that it stood to lose $15 billion to $18 billion if it lost the suit, far higher than the $1 billion that the proposed settlement would take away. However, Ard suggested that the larger numbers may have been an exaggeration “thrown out merely to try to frighten the justices.”

Justice Steven Gonzalez responded to Sound Transit’s claim of possibly losing $18 billion that this was not relevant to the matter at hand.

“I think the justices asked insightful questions, really, of both sides,” Ard said.

Part of the reason that Ard, who is a supporter and user of public transit, put forward the settlement offer was because Sound Transit claimed in court that it needed the lawsuit to be done by December to get $1.5 billion in federal grants.

“They’re not going to get a ruling in their favor, I don’t think, and I, for one, would rather see federal transportation dollars in my backyard than someone else’s,” Ard said.

Sound Transit has not yet responded to the settlement offer.

“What we’ve been looking for from the outset is that the statutes on the books comply with the [Washington State] Constitution,” Ard said. “This is a reasonable way to get there.”

Ard said that the settlement has no effect on the $30 car tabs initiative, I-976, set for November’s ballot.

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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