A King County Superior Court judge tapped the brakes on the voter-approved measure reining in annual motor vehicle license fees, giving time to Seattle, King County and others to make their legal case against the measure.
Judge Marshall Ferguson temporarily halted the Dec. 5 implementation of Initiative 976, which was set to limit car tabs to $30 a year, eliminate a host of programs that fund local road projects and dismantle some transit agencies.
Ferguson ordered the state to continue collecting registration fees, arguing that Seattle and others had demonstrated that “they are likely to prevail on the merits” of their argument. They claimed that the measure violated the state Constitution because I-976’s ballot title was misleading to voters.
Tim Eyman, who has led multiple initiative campaigns against taxation for decades, is behind I-976, which passed earlier this month with nearly 53% of the vote. Eyman accused state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Wednesday of intentionally damaging the initiative, even though the state and Ferguson are now defending the car-tab initiative against legal challenges following voter approval.
Eyman, who announced a run for governor last week, said in a statement that Ferguson “sabotages I-976 from within” and Gov. Jay Inslee “must call a special session.”
“They are the lawbreakers, not us,” Eyman said of the attorney general and governor.
Politicians and business leaders lined up against the measure, warning that it would throw into chaos an already confusing and underfunded roadwork spending program by cutting $4.2 billion from state transportation funding.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat who opposed I-976, wouldn’t comment on the litigation but said the approved measure “undermines our entire transportation system.”
“The Department of Transportation and the governor have temporarily paused all projects that are not currently under contract, which will give the Legislature the additional flexibility as we work to write a new transportation budget with the impacts of I-976 addressed,” he said. “The best-case scenario is that we are able to invest in a safe and efficient transportation system that works for everyone, and I-976 undermines that goal.”
While Billig has warned in the past that completion of the North Spokane Corridor could be at risk, the current earth-moving and railway relocation work on the north-south freeway is “underway and won’t be affected.”
On Twitter, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the judge’s order was “good news for transit, safety, and equity in Seattle. The Court recognized the severe & irreparable harm to our residents that would have occurred w/out this injunction.”
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, said in an email that the order of “the activist King County Court” was a “disrespectful and blatant miscarriage of justice.”
“I am disgusted, but unfortunately not surprised, that Democrats would work so hard to fight against, and sue, the taxpayers simply to take more of their hard earned money,” he wrote.
In 2000, Gov. Gary Locke called for a special session of the Legislature after a King County judge struck down most of Initiative 695, which was a very similar $30 car tab measure put forward by Eyman.
“It’s important for the Legislature to act immediately on this to remove any uncertainty in the minds of the citizens of the state of Washington, to make it very clear that we will carry out Initiative 695,” Locke said then.
While Eyman has called for Inslee to do something similar, there are no indications yet that he will do so.
Unlike today’s order, the 2000 order was a permanent injunction, not a temporary one.
Besides Seattle and King County, the plaintiffs are the Garfield County Transportation Authority, the Washington State Transit Association, the Association of Washington Cities, the Port of Seattle, Intercity Transit, Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington and Michael Rogers, a Lacey, Washington, man who has cerebral palsy and depends on public transit to get to his job in Seattle.
Judge Ferguson heard the arguments Tuesday and issued his order Wednesday.
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