Washington State Supreme Court strikes down $30 car tabs
I-976, the $30 car tab measure approved by voters in 2019 has been struck down by the Washington State Supreme Court. It was found to be unconstitutional for violating the single subject rule and inaccurate ballot title.
Just before the full decision was released, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted:
Justice for Seattle voters prevailed in today's Supreme Court ruling on I-976. Even before the pandemic and economic crisis, Seattle’s transportation budget was unnecessarily decimated by I-976 last year and our residents and businesses have felt the real impacts of cuts.
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) October 15, 2020
I-976 was approved in November 2019, with 53% of voters in favor of the measure. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against it have argued that the initiative used “seemingly popular provisions to gain passage of unpopular ones” and mislead voters on the true nature and impact. They also allege that it violated a rule stating that local matters should be decided locally, rather than on statewide ballot measures.
More specifically, they cite a violation of “single subject” rules. Those exist to prevent a practice known as “log-rolling,” which occurs when an initiative combines multiple topics that are not necessarily related to each other.
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For I-976, reducing car tabs to $30 was just one of a handful of measures the legislation called for. It also would implement a laundry list of tax and fee reductions, including:
- Repealing of a state statute that allows the imposition of a vehicle fee for a Transportation Benefit District
- Repealing of the local option motor vehicle excise tax for passenger-only ferry service
- Repealing of motor vehicle weight fees
- Repealing of motor home weight fees
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 state Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case on June 30, with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson tasked with defending I-976.
Reaction to Thursday’s ruling
“Pierce County and the voters in my district voted overwhelmingly for I-976,” Senator Steve O’Ban said in a news release. “That’s why I authored a bill to enact $30 car tabs earlier this year. My constituents don’t believe light rail will benefit them, just Seattle. I am deeply disappointed that the court ignored taxpayers, rejected the holding of the lower court, and struck down the voter approved I-976.”
Tim Eyman, sponsor of the initiative, and Rep. Jim Walsh said they’ll be at the steps of the state Supreme Court in Olympia at 11:30 a.m. Thursday with their reaction to the decision.
Those challenging the legality of the proposal are also chiming in with their reactions after the decision, including Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
“We knew this initiative had some fairly obvious legal problems from the outset. Mr. Eyman has never sponsored an initiative that’s withstood legal challenge, so today’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The court rightly recognized that a clearly inaccurate initiative title and logrolling subjects is unlawful,” Holmes said. “We had committed legal partners throughout this effort, and I’d like to thank Assistant City Attorneys Carolyn Boies and Erica Franklin for their endless hours and creative thinking.”
“Seattle was the fastest growing city of the last decade,” said Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe. “With that has come many challenges and opportunities on our path to building a more livable, inclusive, and accessible city. A robust and reliable public transportation system available to all is foundational to that vision of a thriving, growing Seattle, and we still have a long ways to go.”
“The passage of I-976 was a dangerous derailment to our shared efforts to create a more equitable transportation system,” Zimbabwe added. “Cruelly, it arrived as a global pandemic set in and placed further out of reach essential transit services when those traveling to reach front-line jobs, school, and other essential services needed it most. Today’s decision to overturn I-976 is an incredible victory for the 76 percent of Seattle voters who rejected this initiative last November, and for everyone who wishes to build a more inclusive city focused on correcting our historic shortcomings. This sustains the local resources needed to investment in asset maintenance and leaves local funding options in place that allows Seattle voters to choose how they want to invest in our vital transportation and transit system.”
Seattle City Council President Lorena González says the ruling is a win for Seattle voters, who “know the importance of investing in and growing our transit systems.”
“Today’s Washington State Supreme Court ruling that Initiative 976 is unconstitutional, is a win for Seattle voters, who in 2019 overwhelmingly voted to reject Tim Eyman’s I-976,” she said. “Everyone benefits from our transportation and transit infrastructure, which heavily relies on Vehicle License Fee revenue that will be preserved due to this court ruling.”