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Tim Eyman, I-976, Ferguson
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Washington leaders, lawmakers react to decision to strike down I-976

I-976 sponsor Tim Eyman. (AP)

With the Washington Supreme Court striking down I-976 — a ballot initiative that would have slashed car tab fees statewide — local leaders, lawmakers, and transportation agencies are reacting to the decision.

I-976 was approved in November 2019, with 53% of voters in favor of the measure. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against argued that the initiative used “seemingly popular provisions to gain passage of unpopular ones” and mislead voters on the true nature and impact.

Reactions to Thursday’s decision from the state Supreme Court have run the gamut, from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to state Sen. Steve O’Ban.

Mayor Jenny Durkan:

State Sen. Steve O’Ban:

Pierce County and the voters in my district voted overwhelmingly for I-976. 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.

I-976 was not the first time voters passed car tab tax relief. “Twenty years ago, the court struck down the first $30 car tabs initiative passed by voters, and the Legislature acted immediately to enact $30 car tax relief,” said O’Ban. “I am announcing today, new legislation to enact the will of the people and make $30 car tabs a reality. If we fail to act, voters will believe–and who can blame them?–that government doesn’t care and doesn’t listen to them after they have clearly spoken through the initiative process. Voters deserve car tab tax relief, and they deserve leaders who will listen to them. I will do everything in my power to see that they get the relief they voted for and deserve.

Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe:

Seattle was the fastest growing city of the last decade. 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.

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.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson:

I’m proud of my legal team, who worked long hours to defend the will of the voters, arguing successfully at the trial court that Initiative 976 was constitutional.

To be candid, we knew this would be a difficult case. I-976 is the latest in a long list of Eyman tax initiatives struck down by the courts. In fact, Tim Eyman has never written a successful tax initiative that passed legal muster. Every one of his tax initiatives has been thrown out or partially blocked by the courts.

Tim Eyman will, of course, do what he has done throughout this case — blame everyone but himself. He will again blame my outstanding legal team, even though the Supreme Court allowed interveners to present Eyman’s arguments. He will again blame my office for language in the ballot title that he specifically requested to be included in the title, and that was pulled word-for-word from his initiative. He should look in the mirror and apologize to voters for once again sending them an initiative that failed to survive a legal challenge and deliver on its promises.

Sound Transit Deputy Executive Director of Communications Geoff Patrick:

While Sound Transit was not party to this litigation we are pleased by the decision. Confirming the unconstitutionality of this initiative will enable the continuation of transit services and transportation investments that are vital to residents and businesses across the state of Washington. The decision also avoids potential litigation about the status of critical Sound Transit expansions that were decisively approved by the region’s voters. 54 percent of voters in the Sound Transit District opposed I-976. This was identical to the 54 percent of district voters who approved the Sound Transit 3 plan in 2016 to expand transit across Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

Seattle Council President Lorena Gonzalez:

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. 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. Seattle voters, who know the importance of investing in and growing our transit systems, strongly opposed I-976 by 76 percent. The City of Seattle stood with a broad coalition of other local jurisdictions and community-based organizations to challenge the constitutionality of I-976, because of the devastating impacts this Eyman Initiative would have had on our region’s transportation network and infrastructure. In Seattle alone, our residents were primed to lose tens of millions of dollars annually in necessary transit improvements.

Our residents rely on public transportation and the city’s roads and bridges to access jobs, childcare, school, healthcare and so much more. Our ability to collect vehicle license fees for transportation is vital in our continued effort to improve our region’s transit system and advance projects that mitigate the effects of climate change and advance transportation equity in all neighborhoods across multiple modes of transportation.

The positive ruling on I-976 was a long journey, but a vast majority of Seattle and King County voters opposed I-976 because we all rely on these revenues to maintain our roads and bridges and to advance transit services via buses and light rail. This ruling allows the City of Seattle and many other jurisdictions to continue to fund the critical transportation infrastructure we all rely on.

King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci:

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder that transit serves as a critical lifeline for our essential workers and so many other King County residents. I’m pleased to see the State Supreme Court’s decision will restore a necessary tool for King County and its cities to maintain and build our transportation system that keeps our communities livable, healthy, and sustainable and supports a successful economy.

King County Executive Dow Constantine:

Today’s ruling resoundingly rejects this unconstitutional measure, just as the people of King County rejected it at the polls, and we can now move forward to build a transportation system and economy that gives every person the opportunity to create a better future.

I-976 threatened to reduce or eliminate local and voter-approved funding for public transportation, bridges and roads, and other critical infrastructure and services across our state. It jeopardized nearly $100 million in funding in King County, including Regional Mobility Grant Program awards that fund RapidRide expansion and reliability improvements, and funding for transit serving persons with disabilities.

At King County, we are gratified to be able to continue to work with local jurisdictions, other transit agencies, and partners to fund safe, sustainable, and equitable mobility for all our residents. Transit and mobility investments will be central to our recovery as we rebuild from the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m pleased to have this shadow of uncertainty lifted by the Court.

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