Lawsuit over ST3, car tabs gets new life despite high court defeat

Mar 4, 2020, 6:39 AM | Updated: 10:27 am
car tabs...

Just when you thought one of the legal challenges over high car tabs might have been put to rest – it’s back, despite the state Supreme Court already ruling on it last month.

Attorney Joel Ard — who has been handling the class action lawsuit against Sound Transit on behalf of taxpayers claiming it’s unconstitutional — admits it’s rare, but says so is the bombshell that dropped just hours before the state’s high court heard the case.

The base legal challenge is over the bill that lawmakers passed to give Sound Transit the authority to ask voters to approve ST3 for a $54 billion light rail expansion. Allegedly, ST3 amended a statute – the vehicle valuation system for MVET calculation – but only referenced the RCW, not spelling it out in text as required under the state constitution to avoid misleading voters, among other issues.

In February, the majority of the high court disagreed, but shortly before the court heard arguments in 2019, a bombshell came to light – Sound Transit had been using the wrong vehicle valuation method for years to calculate car tab taxes, the 1999 schedule rather than the 1996 schedule laid out in ST3 legislation. Ard believes that’s a problem.

“This law (is) written in such a way that legislators who voted on knew what they were voting on? And unfortunately, it turns out – it appears absolutely none of them did,” Ard said.

The problem, he says, is that information did not come to light until right before the hearing – leaving justices to struggle to understand that issue.

So, on Tuesday, Ard asked state Supreme Court justices to reconsider its ruling and send the case back to the lower court in Pierce County to essentially start the process over again, so that should the case end up back before the high court, the justices would then have had time to absorb all of the facts, which are meant to be hashed out at the trial court level.

“This is like a Perry Mason episode where the killer confesses on the witness stand at trial,” Ard said. “Sound Transit and the state repeatedly said that the statute was clear because everyone knew it meant they would continue using the same schedule from 1996. The problem is they weren’t. As it turns out, no one reading current law knew that Sound Transit was actually using a schedule from 1999. It wasn’t just confusing – it rebuts their argument that the statute was unconstitutional,” Ard said.

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Lawsuit over ST3, car tabs gets new life despite high court defeat