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I-976 fallout: Gov. Inslee postpones all upcoming WSDOT projects

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee(AP)

As I-976 continues to lead in polls, the possibility of $30 car tabs in Washington state is becoming more and more likely. The measure would gut a large chunk of Washington’s transportation budget, which had Gov. Jay Inslee issuing a statement Wednesday evening postponing all upcoming WSDOT projects.

The next steps for Sound Transit in the wake of I-976

“It is clear that the majority of voters objected to current car tab levels. It is also clear that this vote means there will be adverse impacts on our state transportation system,” Inslee said. “Accordingly, in response to the will of the people, I am taking immediate action. I have directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to postpone projects not yet underway.”

Inslee also directed Washington State Patrol and the Department of Licensing to defer any non-essential spending as the state reviews the potential impacts of I-976.

Sound Transit — which stands to lose almost $7 billion in revenue between 2021 and 2041 with the passage of $30 car tabs — will “begin the process of responding” at the next meeting of its full board on Nov. 21.

“The Board will hear presentations from the agency’s finance staff as well as our general counsel,” Sound Transit said in a written statement. “The Board will consider Sound Transit’s obligations to taxpayers who want their motor vehicle excise taxes reduced, as well as how to realize voters’ earlier direction to dramatically expand high capacity transit throughout the Puget Sound region.”

In the meantime, it will not be commenting further.

“This is the only statement we’re planning and we’re not doing interviews since they would immediately get into speculative territory,” Sound Transit clarified.

The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimates that I-976 will slash $1.9 billion in state revenue over the next six years, as well as $2.3 billion in local governments in that same period. That includes a $35 million funding gap in Seattle’s own budget.

Eyman: Executive Constantine in ‘5 stages of grief’ over car tabs

Meanwhile, I-976 may soon face a legal challenge, with King County Executive Dow Constantine announcing his intent to ask the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office “to prepare a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of I-976.”

Independent of any lawsuit, Sound Transit has until March 31, 2020 to defease bonds it has issued against car tab taxes. After that, $30 tabs would go into effect in April. That said, any potential lawsuit could include an injunction that would put the measure on hold while it gets settled in court.

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