I-976 RULING: Not the final word, but a loss for opponents

The much-anticipated initial ruling on the Initiative 976 lawsuit is in – and King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson has rejected most of the arguments against the measure. But it’s not a full ruling, so the preliminary injunction keeping 976 on hold remains in effect. Here’s the ruling document (uploaded by independent city-focused news site SCC Insight), n which Ferguson writes, “To summarize, this order dismisses all but two of plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to I-976.” The judge said, among other things, the plaintiffs didn’t meet the requirement of showing “beyond a reasonable doubt” that 976 violates the state constitution’s “single-subject rule” for initiatives. The plaintiffs include the city of Seattle. Here’s reaction from the mayor:

She is also on the Sound Transit Board, which was briefed after the November election about potential effects of 976 if it were upheld and implemented. Here’s our coverage of that meeting. The board was told that projects through 2024 were likely safe; the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension, however, is scheduled for 2030 completion, and under a worst-case scenario, ST might have to consider canceling or delaying some projects. ST itself is not a party to the lawsuit and has kept WS light-rail planning on track despite the legislation.

ADDED 4:26 PM: And that will continue, ST spokesperson David Jackson told WSB when we asked if the agency had a comment on today’s ruling: “Sound Transit will continue to monitor the ongoing litigation while we advance our work on the projects and services voters have asked us to deliver.”

57 Replies to "I-976 RULING: Not the final word, but a loss for opponents"

  • CouchPotato February 12, 2020 (6:25 pm)

    Honestly, a little bit of an arrogant, one-sided view with the statement “Our residents have made it clear they support increasing transit…”While that may be true for King and a couple of other counties, it was a statewide vote and the vote was for having $30 car tab fees.  First of all, you (the Mayor) are missing the message there is a group that feels misrepresented and/or not included.  I understand and have seen there are statistics that show the $30 tabs will hurt transportation funding in all counties.  The fact is the “ask” on the car tabs is too much for a group of people who feel under represented or they feel they are not sharing in the benefits.Then you make a comment (the Mayor) like that all while while you are suing to keep the expensive car tabs AND you make those who wanted $30 tabs pay the higher amount!  Could you pour any more gasoline on this fire?You lost, get over it, remove the requirement to pay and start refunding the difference.  Then figure out what to do next.  Remember… if it has to be voted on it can obviously be defeated.  Because, it already has.  

    • East Coast Cynic February 12, 2020 (7:41 pm)

      Since Pierce County voted for the $30 tabs, maybe we could cancel or delay Tacoma link (scheduled for 2030) , delay Lynnwood link and cancel or delay link to Everett(Snohomish voted for the tabs too) and keep West Seattle/Ballard on schedule. At the very least punish the counties that voted for an initiative that hurts link funding rather than the one that voted against it to maintain the funding.

      • Rumbles February 12, 2020 (9:50 pm)

        I’m sure that will help the next time there is legislation where you want their votes.

  • Nigel February 12, 2020 (7:06 pm)

    A vote was taken but the message was not clear. That is why the vote requires a single issue so that people are not confused. When a single vote covers two or more issues, people become confused on both the vote and the message. 

    • Fappy February 12, 2020 (9:59 pm)

      Now I’m confused. Are you saying that everyone that voted for 976 were confused? A bit insulting, no? I think this is what is upsetting people about the challenges. It’s one thing to make a legal argument that the initiative violates the constitution; it’s another to say that the people who voted for 976 didn’t know what they were voting for. There are a lot of folks who are sick of the way the State values vehicles as the basis for exorbitant car tab fees. The vast majority of pro-976’ers are VERY clear on that.

    • Bradley February 13, 2020 (2:46 am)

      Seriously? Have you ever read I-1639?

    • Kc February 13, 2020 (6:18 am)

      Suggesting people were confused…I voted for the $30 on the simply grounds of how they calculated the worth of the vehicle. Not on the bases of transportation need. No confusion here

      • Matt February 13, 2020 (7:39 am)

        I think this is the most common reason.  The vehicle valuations were so far off people felt robbed.  Gov likes to pretend like they’ve got an income problem, they’ve got a spending efficiency problem.  Look at how much a project costs, then look at how often costly mistakes happen. So much money is constantly wasted.  

        • Mickymse February 13, 2020 (1:32 pm)

          I suppose the thousands of people whose cars are undervalued on the current table are just scrambling to send in extra taxes, right? And those who voted YES are thrilled that the new valuation will make folks with OLDER cars pay more while those with NEWER cars pay less? Because that’s the reality, and not the propaganda that the I-976 campaign pushed.This initiative wasn’t about “helping” voters — it was about rich people saving money and pushing their tax burden onto everyone else, and it was about thousands of Republicans WHO DON’T EVEN PAY the Sound Transit taxes sticking it to Seattle because that’s what they were ginned up to do.

  • psps February 12, 2020 (7:10 pm)

    LOL. Nothing says ‘democracy’ like ignoring the will of the voters.  Regardless of whatever slick technicality they may use to undo the vote because “they didn’t vote the way I wanted them to vote,” it is still ignoring the will of the voters. People knew very well what they were voting on and anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. It’s this kind of thing that destroys people’s faith in the system.

    • AMD February 12, 2020 (10:08 pm)

      I guarantee most people do not realize they voted to repeal a car rental tax.  

    • Moose2 February 13, 2020 (8:36 pm)

      LOL. Nothing says ‘democracy’ like ignoring the will of the voters”Voters in King county voted for increased transit, and voted overwhelming against I-976 because they want that transit plan to be properly funded. Allowing people from the eastern side of the state (and elsewhere in the state) to override the will of the people here is most certainly undemocratic.

  • wlcg06 February 12, 2020 (7:43 pm)

    Well said Couchpotato. The war on cars is not over in the Mayor’s eyes. How did the Mayor not realize that the 976 vote was a clear message from so many that $300 – $600 car tab fees are ridiculous?  

    • HSPro February 13, 2020 (12:10 pm)

      Because the people who have those $300-600 car tabs overwhelmingly voted AGAINST the measure.  The people who aren’t affected (Eastern Washington and the rest of the sticks, primarily) voted overwhelmingly for the measure to decrease car tabs.  Let them have their decreased car tabs, but we want our transit, and the people outside the collection district should not have a say in how we are taxed.The measure included a part about voter approved increases, and I think that allows for ST3 funding to continue on, or it very well should allow it to continue on.

  • Sixbuck February 12, 2020 (7:49 pm)

    When will our government learn that they work for the people, all people? This is a statewide issue, not just King County and not just the City of Seattle.  I abhor Tim Eyman. I believe he is a snake that has nourished himself off the collective public’s teat for too long.  But…(God forbid) I would vote for him before I would ever vote for Jenny Durkan. 

    • wscommuter February 12, 2020 (11:17 pm)

      Actually, Sixbuck, this isn’t a “statewide issue.”  At least not the way you’re suggesting it is.  King County in particular, pays significantly more in transportation taxes than it receives back in state spending for transportation.  Just a fact.  I believe the numbers are something like for each dollar in transportation taxes we pay, we get .87 cents back in spending; maybe not even that much.  Where does the rest go?  Benton and Yakima Counties.  Spokane … Tri-Cities … Bellingham … and  yes, Tacoma too.  Putting this in terms my conservative fellow citizens might understand, it is those self-righteous “welfare queens” in eastern WA and rural western WA who receive my tax dollars to pay for their bridges and roads.  So yes, I object to my fellow citizens statewide voting to cut taxes for the projects my city needs when the truth is that King County tax dollars are building that new bridge in Wenatchee.   I have a suggestion – let’s sponsor a single-subject initiative:  Transportation tax dollars have to stay in the county that pays them.  If we do that, then $30 tabs are just fine.  We’ll have plenty of money  to build what we need and the sanctimonious hypocrites in other counties who resent King County so much can  just fund their own projects without the tainted tax money King County subsidizes them with now.  Tell me Sixbuck … are you going to vote for that initiative?  

      • Sixbuck February 12, 2020 (11:29 pm)

        Yes, I would.  

      • Anonymous Coward February 13, 2020 (4:31 am)

         it is those self-righteous “welfare queens” in eastern WA and rural western WA who receive my tax dollars to pay for their bridges and roads”  Aren’t those the bridges and roads that are used to bring us our food?

        • rpo February 13, 2020 (8:14 am)

          That would almost entirely consist of interstate freeways which are paid for with federal funding, not state car tabs. 

          • KM February 13, 2020 (2:26 pm)

            There are no interstates north of I-90, between I-405 and the Idaho border, an area which holds important parts of our agriculture land. US highways (funded with federal and state/local dollars), state highways, and county roads are very important to the movement of ag goods through the state. Even in areas closer to interstates, such as the Yakima Valley, are extremely dependent on regional roadways. Farms, warehousing, and housing don’t just line I-90 and I-82. 

        • Patrick February 13, 2020 (9:45 am)

          WSCOMM……Speaking of self righteous, take a look in the mirror.   How about each county votes on and keeps whatever road funding to themselves.  Then, when you are ready for your next batch of fruit, vegetables,  you get to pay a surcharge for the road cost of getting these products on your dinner table.  Is $20 per lb sound ok.  How much are you willing to pay to eat?  Oh,  lets not forget how to differentiate between, county roads, state highways, federal highways.   How do the state vehicles, (WSDOT, highway patrol, forest service) pay for the use of a individually funded county roadway.   King County gives, but King County also takes just as much.  It just may not be in your narrow monetary focus.

          • wscommuter February 13, 2020 (3:42 pm)

            @ Patrick … by all means … let the farmers in E. WA put a surcharge on their produce.  We’ll see how the free market handles that.  Growers in CA and OR, etc. will appreciate your efforts.  That whole tariff thing working so well for Trump and all, right?  But seriously – my suggestion is a bit tongue in cheek.  I actually do support subsidizing eastern WA because we’re all supposed to be in this together.  Hence my resentment when we can’t fund transportation infrastructure because folks elsewhere in the state get to vote to deny us funding.  I have no problem building roads in the rest of the state for the counties that can’t afford to build those themselves.  But I’d like my fellow Washingtonians to get past the moronic talk-radio-right anti-Seattle ignorance that is choking our transportation infrastructure funding.  

      • Tsurly February 13, 2020 (9:17 am)

        I’ve been saying this for years. Cut off the teat and let them pick themselves up by the boot straps and figure it out. Lets start with the $500M that goes to Pierce County every year.

  • Sixbuck February 12, 2020 (7:56 pm)

    Furthermore, I believe that Mayor Durkan being on the Sound Transit Board constitutes prima facie evidence of conflict of interest, if not borderline political corruption. Ms. Durkan, in my opinion, should, at the very least, recuse herself from future Sound Transit Board meetings.  

  • Sixbuck February 12, 2020 (9:19 pm)

    Because our elected officials have shown that they cannot be unbiased in their political battles. I understand that this is “politics”, but at some point the will of the voters, in essence their vote, needs to be heard and honored. The fundamentals of our democracy are being undermined by personal ideologies. Enough is enough!!

    • KM February 13, 2020 (7:46 am)

      We elected those officials too, though. The initiative process is not our only exercise of the electorate. The problem with the initiative process is anyone can write an initiative and bring it to ballot with enough signatures, regardless of its ability to stand up in court. Tim Eyman and others are not legal scholars, and that’s why there are often challenges to these initiatives. It would be nice if there was a process to throw out the unconstitutional ones prior to them making it to the ballot so we shouldn’t have to go through this drama so often, but that would defeat the point of the initiative process.

  • MJ February 12, 2020 (10:39 pm)

    I’m curious to the results of the vote by people who own cars versus those that do not.
    Yes Seattle voters rejected the initiative, but a good percentage of Seattle voters do not own cars. It’s easy to support a Tax/Fee that you yourself do not have to pay.

    And when the Tax/Fee is based on unrealistic valuation it’s like adding gasoline to a fire. The politicians could have defeated this initiative simply by fixing the insidious valuation schedule. But instead now are resorting to the Courts.  The politicians did not learn from the first initiative years ago that was prompted by the unfair valuation schedule!

    • CAM February 12, 2020 (11:39 pm)

      I’m confused. I thought we needed to have all new construction come with 2 parking spaces per unit because there’s no way to exist in Seattle without at least 3 vehicles per person?

      • AMD February 13, 2020 (6:33 am)

        I was thinking the same thing, lol.  I have two cars I barely drive and voted yes for it.  Then again, my tabs barely went up (like $10 on one and $15 on the other) when they changed the valuation schedule because I’m not driving a brand-new Hummer.

        • AMD February 13, 2020 (7:19 am)

          To clarify: I voted yes to ST3 (the car tab increase) knowing it would increase my tabs.  Voted “no” on the initiative.

    • tsurly February 13, 2020 (9:10 am)

      Car AND RV owner here. I voted yes for ST3 (to increase my tabs) and no on 976.  

    • KM February 13, 2020 (2:28 pm)

      I’m also a car owner who voted for ST3. 

  • Canton February 12, 2020 (11:01 pm)

    Sound transit was not forthcoming, with their valuation scale, when presenting the tax. They already hit the go button when establishing their bonding capacity, knowing damn well once the bonds were committed, there was no legal way to get out. Maybe some people woke up and voted.

    • Mickymse February 13, 2020 (1:38 pm)

      The schedule is literally in the Revised Code of Washington, and was approved by the State Legislature. Sound Transit only has the taxing authority it is given to it by the State.And the ST3 light rail campaign quite literally put a calculator on their campaign website and invited anyone who was interested to type in the value of their car — specifically, the MSRP — and the year they purchased it to determine what their tax payments would be.

    • Moose2 February 13, 2020 (8:41 pm)

      The tax schedule was the one mandated by the state, nothing to do with Sound Transit. Additionally, the state prevents ST from raising revenue in other (arguably fairer) ways such as a local income tax. You cannot blame ST for doing what is allowed and required by the state. You should also note that those restrictions are put in place by the same people that voted for I-976 (i.,e. voters outside the ST taxing district) deliberately to make it difficult to raise the taxes that people inside the district would vote for (like that voted for ST3).

  • flimflam February 13, 2020 (4:58 am)

    none of this would have happened if they didn’t use that ridiculous inflated value system to determine tab fees – i have never really heard an explanation of why that was done or how it is/was even legal. 

  • Lola February 13, 2020 (7:55 am)

    They also need to use better wording on these initiative’s instead of trying to confuse everyone.  I voted Yes on I-976 as I want $30 car tabs back.  Look for your Bike, Bus and other transportation money somewhere else instead of my pocket all the time. 

    • AMD February 13, 2020 (11:27 am)

      It costs the state more than $30 just to process your tabs.  If they truly knocked the tabs down to $30 and didn’t add any other taxes, they’d be running in a deficit.  You’re just going to get taxed on something different instead.  And something that’s likely to be less in your control than if you drive or how new/nice of a car you choose to drive.

      • Rumbles February 14, 2020 (4:53 pm)

        Do you have any evidence to back this claim up?  If it really costs $30 per vehicle to collect your tabs that, alone, is negligent.  

    • tsurly February 13, 2020 (12:11 pm)

       Remember that as you sit in traffic that will rapidly continue to get worse because we choose not to fund other options that will move a lot of people.

    • Ice February 13, 2020 (10:34 pm)

      You know that you are subsidized by people who don’t drive, right?https://taxfoundation.org/states-road-funding-2019/

  • Scubafrog February 13, 2020 (9:57 am)

    A vote was taken, the masses want a cheap annual gimmick over mass transit.   It was written quite clearly.It’s a done deal.    It’s fascinating to see how many are willing to blame Sound Transit’s “valuation scale”, or tim eyman’s wording.  An IQ of 50 could’ve made a cursory scan of the ballot wording, understood it, and voting 1 way or the other.Seattle doesn’t want to pay for transit.  For a wealthier city, I’ve never seen such cheap people.

  • Azimuth February 13, 2020 (11:47 am)

    I voted for ST3 (and still support it) and against I-976, but I understand where at least some of the I-976 voters are coming from. My 15 year old motorcycle was just billed $160 tabs… yikes!

  • Big T February 13, 2020 (12:28 pm)

    Our ridiculously high gas tax is supposed to be paying for all road building, maintenance and transportation projects. Jacking up car tab prices is yet another indication of runaway spending by the Washington Democrats. Washington state employee pension funds are also underfunded, so we’ll soon be seeing other taxes proposed under different names that will help the lazy state and county employees continue getting gold plated pension and healthcare benefits.

    • Ice February 13, 2020 (10:31 pm)

      The revenue from the gas tax is so low that it pays for almost nothing. Look it up. If the cost of infrastructure was actually paid for by the gas tax, we’d all be paying a lot more at the pump. I have the crazy belief that people (including myself) should pay for the things that they use, and the gas tax is merely an illusion of that. As you can see from the following article, even factoring the ‘unfair’ cost of tabs (that will be gone soon), the state still had to pull money from other places for the cost of roads. I‘d be happy to pay more for gas and car registration if it meant that I was actually paying to completely cover the cost of the infrastructure that I use. https://taxfoundation.org/states-road-funding-2019/

  • ProbablyYourNeighbor February 13, 2020 (12:54 pm)

    I don’t understand the “will of the people” and “you lost” arguments being made here. By the numbers I can find, King County supported ST3 with a 57.91% win and 59.5% opposed I-976, and that becomes 69.8% approving ST3 and 73% not supporting I-976 when you look at just Seattle. Looking at my most expensive tabs, about 14% is going to the state (a little less if you don’t count the $5 processing fee), so it seems like maybe if people in other counties want cheaper tabs…they should take that up with the counties they reside in? Because a strong majority of people in Seattle and King County voted to tax themselves more.

    I agree that whatever valuation system is being used doesn’t help the situation; having voted yes on ST3 and no on I-976, I pay thousands of dollars every year to register my vehicles, and I complain about it every year, and every year I’m baffled that a motorcycle that weighs ~450lb and might see 2k miles/year is taxed at the same rate as a ~4000lb car that might go 10k miles. But at the end of the day, the writing that’s been on the wall for *years* is that Seattle and King County need to invest heavily in infrastructure and mass transit if it’s to be a livable city/area. Both of those things, even at their most cost efficient, are massively expensive and that cost doesn’t change no matter where the money is coming from ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ All I-976 does, if it survives, is move where the money comes from and give people with expensive and/or multiple vehicles another tax break that they don’t need.

  • Wayout February 13, 2020 (3:54 pm)

    My friend’s 2016 Nissan Leaf which he paid $15,000 on lease return just got his new bill. State value: $46,000!!!!!! Really??? Really!!!!.

    • flimflam February 13, 2020 (5:03 pm)

      seriously, that is messed up – i have been really wanting to hear an official word regarding how that is possibly justifiable and not out right robbery…anyone?

    • Tsurly February 13, 2020 (6:21 pm)

      I’m calling BS on this

    • Fappy February 13, 2020 (7:03 pm)

      What? Is that real? 46K for a used Leaf? I get it’s electric but man is that absurd. See, State of Washington just trying to milk everyone. It’s wrong…sorry everyone. It’s wrong.

      • heartless February 13, 2020 (8:31 pm)

        Random stranger on the internet: Hearsay, hearsay hearsay!  Hearsay?  Hearsay hearsay.  HEARSAY!!!

        Other random strangers on the internet: SHOCK!  Outrage; indignation.  Justifiable anger!!!

    • chemist February 14, 2020 (1:11 am)

      Sounds off by 5-figures, but I appreciate an attempt to put numbers on it.

      The base 2016 Nissan Leaf S has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail
      Price (MSRP) of about $30,000, stepping up to about $35,000 for the
      mid-level SV, and $37,700 for the top-line SL.

  • Democracy... February 13, 2020 (8:21 pm)

    The argument that Seattle voted against the initiative, so therefore government should sue is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as saying that we should cut off funding to counties who vote differently? Is everyone who voted in KC a car owner? Does that make their vote matter less? Are they getting a free service with ST3 since they don’t have to pay the car tab? Should only homeowners vote on levies which set property taxes? Should Hilary Clinton be President of Seattle and Trump President of Spokane?

    It’s called democracy. We all don’t love every outcome or vote, but it’s better than anything else out there. Elected officials who decide to sue voters will eventually be back on the ballot. 

  • Aerial Observer February 14, 2020 (10:23 am)

    The argument that Seattle voted against the initiative, so therefore government should sue is ridiculous.

    Agreed, but the argument for the lawsuit rests on the Initiative being in violation of our state’s Constitution. Mayor Durkan spoke to defend the interests of Seattle’s citizens, who voted overwhelmingly against I-976. Elected officials are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens who elected them.

    Almost as ridiculous as saying that we should cut off funding to counties who vote differently?”

    The author wrote the initiative to put the voters of different counties into conflict with each other. ST3 depends on the revenue stream I-976 seeks to cancel. By voting for I-976, citizens not in the ST district attempted to veto ST3. That’s blatantly unfair, and provokes an inappropriate (if understandable) response to return the favor — and to return it in kind, using the (entirely bogus) rhetoric of self-sufficiency anti-tax persons like to throw around.

    The root of our problem is the abuse of our Initiative process by an admitted thief and liar, purely for his own financial gain. Putting a stop to such abuses will greatly improve our civic discourse, allowing us all to work better together to solve our mutual problems.

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