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Seattle, King County file lawsuit against I-976

$30 car tabs initiative, sponsored by Tim Eyman, passed in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Just over a week after Election Day, the city of Seattle and King County, among others, have filed a lawsuit over I-976, the $30 car tabs initiative.

How a legal challenge to I-976 might play out in court

The lawsuit argues that the initiative violates the state’s Constitution.

“As with prior initiatives by the same sponsor, I-976 is a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

That sponsor is Tim Eyman.

Voters approved I-976 with 53% in favor, across Washington state.

Plaintiffs argue that the initiative uses “seemingly popular provisions to gain passage of unpopular ones” and misleads voters on the true nature and impact. It also violates the rule that local matters should be decided locally.

Read the many suggested violations here.

In addition to the city of Seattle and King County, plaintiffs include the Garfield County Transportation Authority, Washington State Transit Association, Association of Washington Cities, the Port of Seattle, Intercity Transit, Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington, and Michael Rogers, an individual with cerebral palsy in Lacey.

The plaintiffs are asking that the initiative be ruled unconstitutional and be prevented from taking effect.

“The end result of this unconstitutional initiative, I-976, is to decimate revenue and funding for crucial local projects, particularly those related to transportation and transit,” the lawsuit states.

Eyman responded to the lawsuit.

“Rather than accept the voters clear decision, Seattle government is suing the voters because the voters disobeyed and voted for it anyway,” Eyman wrote. “It’s a slap in the face to the people who clearly oppose these dishonest vehicle taxes. ”

The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimates that the adoption of I-976 would 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.

A day after Election Day, Governor Inslee issued a statement postponing all upcoming projects by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“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.

Sound Transit — which stands to lose almost $7 billion in revenue between 2021 and 2041 with the passage of $30 car tabs – says it will respond to the impacts at the next meeting of its full board on Nov. 21.

Most of I-976 would take effect on Dec. 5, according to the state’s fiscal impact statement. 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.

Critics, such as Republican State Sen. Steve O’Ban, says he’s worried that state Attorney General Bob Ferguson can’t be trusted to defend the $30 car tab measure in court.

As Washington State’s Attorney General, it’s Bob Ferguson’s responsibility to present the defense for I-976 in court. O’Ban, though, sees a couple problems with that, including Ferguson’s past vocal opposition to I-976.

Ferguson is also in the process of suing Eyman for $2.1 million dollars, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in court contempt fees.

MyNorthwest’s Nick Bowman contributed to this report.

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