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WA Supreme Court upholds ST3 in separate car tabs lawsuit

The debate over Washington's car tabs continues. (MyNorthwest photo)

The Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday, upholding the constitutionality of car tabs fees levied by ST3.

‘Stunning admission’ from Sound Transit during car tabs court case

The court ruled 7-2 in favor of Sound Transit, allowing the regional authority to continue using “two separate depreciation schedules” to calculate car tab rates — one from 1996, and another, more current one from 2006.

The case against Sound Transit alleged that the voter-approved ST3 transportation funding package was worded in a way that didn’t clearly detail how car tab fees would be calculated. The larger claim was that the Legislature and Sound Transit amended existing law in that bill by using an outdated vehicle valuation system. That outdated system greatly inflated vehicle values, which resulted in more costly car tabs.

That argument was further strengthened in September, when Sound Transit admitted in court that it had inadvertently used a 1998 depreciation schedule to calculate car tab taxes, instead of the 1996 schedule laid out in ST3’s stipulations.

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Even so, the state Supreme Court ruled that it is “readily ascertainable” in ST3 which depreciation schedules are being used. A lower court affirmed that ruling in 2018, but admitted at the time this was likely an issue for a higher court.

Had the regional transit authority lost this lawsuit, it would have been forced to pay back millions of dollars collected from car tab fees since ST3 was first implemented.

A separate lawsuit saw a different outcome Wednesday, after a King County judge largely upheld the constitutionality of I-976. The legal battle over the controversial $30 car tab measure continues in the meantime, while additional discovery for the case is compiled.

While state Sen. Steve O’Ban said Thursday’s ruling on ST3 was “disappointing,” he noted how it makes the I-976 lawsuit that much more important.

“Most importantly, I-976 ($30 car tabs) superseded the Sound Transit MVET and the unfair schedule, and ST3,” he said in a written statement.

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