The Washington Supreme Court tossed out an initiative that would have limited car tab fees to $30, a move that would have hurt transit funding throughout the state.
Initiative I-976, pushed forward by infamous tax-opponent Tim Eyman, was approved by 53 percent of Washington state voters but opposed by roughly the same percentage of voters in the Sound Transit region.
A mix of governments, associations and private people took the matter to court, challenging I-976’s constitutionality.
Specifically, they believed that the measure violated the state’s “one subject requirement,” meaning that the initiative can do one thing, which also must appear in the title of the measure.
They also said that the language in I-976 was untrue because it asserted that car tab fees would be held to $30 when they could have been somewhat higher.
The justices ruled that the measure violated the “single subject” rule and was therefore unconstitutional.
Had the justices upheld the measure, it would have cut roughly $32 million from Seattle’s transportation budget per year by stripping the city of the ability to put up car tab fees for voter approval and axing ones that already exist. The regional transit system would have been imperiled, and so would a citywide effort to put free ORCA passes in the hands of students and some low-income housing residents.
The court’s highly anticipated decision set off a flood of relieved statements from local elected officials and one odd one from the state’s top cop, Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Ferguson was put in the position of defending I-976, despite a complicated relationship with Eyman who — in an Oct. 16 email that also contained multiple subjects — accused Ferguson of persecuting Eyman and his family. He did not directly address the Supreme Court’s decision on I-976 in that email.
In his own statement, Ferguson praised his legal team for successfully defending I-976 at trial court but noted that he had felt defending I-976 would be an uphill battle from the very beginning.
“I-976 is the latest in a long list of Eyman tax initiatives struck down by the courts,” Ferguson said in a statement. “In fact, Tim Eyman has never written a successful tax initiative that passed legal muster.”
The justices did not stop at overturning I-976. They also took the opportunity to strike down a previous state Supreme Court decision that barred a Black family from burying their 3-year-old child in a cemetery for children.
“As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing [B]lack lives,” the justices wrote.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more of the Oct. 21-27, 2020 issue.