Update Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.: A judge has blocked Tim Eyman’s $30 car-tab measure from taking effect in Washington, citing “substantial concerns” that the initiative’s description on the ballot was misleading.
SEATTLE — Lawyers for cities and transit agencies across the state made their case Tuesday in King County Superior Court to stop Initiative 976 from going into effect next week.
Judge Marshall Ferguson said he would issue a ruling late Tuesday or early Wednesday. There was no ruling by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Shortly after voters approved the $30 car-tab measure earlier this month, the city of Seattle and King County filed suit against the measure. The Washington State Transit Association, whose members include Sound Transit and Community Transit, and the Association of Washington Cities, which includes many Snohomish County cities, are also parties.
Most elements of the initiative are to become law Dec. 5. Plaintiffs were asking for a preliminary injunction until the lawsuit makes it way through the courts.
The hearing wrapped up with theatrics from the initiative sponsor, Tim Eyman, accusing the Attorney General’s Office of sabotaging the case.
In front of Judge Ferguson, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that I-976 is unconstitutional, violates the single-subject rule for initiatives, has a deceptive ballot title and would cause cities irreparable harm.
“The ultimate result of Initiative 976 is to tremendously harm the infrastructure of our state, the transportation and transit of many of our large urban areas, and most importantly does this without the consent of those areas,” said David Hackett, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Hackett said that while the title of the initiative says voter-approved charges are exempt, the measure actually takes away that authority. And it doesn’t allow for new voter-approved fees starting the day after the initiative is set to take effect, he said.
The judge voiced concern that the ballot title might have been misleading and lulled voters into a false sense of assurance.
“If they see ‘except voter approved charges,’ they might think … ‘I don’t even need to look at the initiative text,’” Ferguson said. “That kind of goes to the heart of the potential deception the court is concerned about.”
“The ballot title strongly implies one thing, the initiative text specifies almost the exact opposite,” the judge noted.
Alan Copsey, a lawyer from the Office of the Attorney General defending the initiative, disagreed and said the title indicated that the voters should read the entire measure.
He also argued that taxing authority granted by the state, such as through transportation benefit districts, can be withdrawn by the Legislature or the will of the people.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs had not shown an immediate harm, which is needed for a preliminary injunction, Copsey added.
He pointed to $20 million in city of Seattle reserves and said that could be used to fill funding gaps. And cuts to King County Metro Transit caused by the passage of I-976 won’t occur until March.
“They alleged several harms, but they haven’t alleged they would occur immediately,” Copsey said.
Eyman tried to add to the state’s argument after both sides wrapped up. He tried to clarify the intent of the initiative before he was stopped by the judge.
After court proceedings, Eyman continued his criticism of the Attorney General’s Office, accusing its lawyers of not doing their job.
“You absolutely blew it, you didn’t do your job. Your job was to defend these initiatives and you didn’t do it right,” he said.
Ferguson said it was likely the case will eventually make its way to the state Supreme Court.