A Sound Transit Link light rail train. (Atomic Taco via Wikimedia Commons)

A Sound Transit Link light rail train. (Atomic Taco via Wikimedia Commons)

Taxpayers want court to block Sound Transit car-tab fees

A group is seeking class-action status in an attempt to recover more than $240 million.

TACOMA — The simmering battle surrounding Sound Transit car tabs is entering the legal arena.

Seven residents, including three from Snohomish County, filed a lawsuit in Pierce County on Tuesday aimed at erasing the car tab increase approved by voters in 2016 and refunding the roughly $240 million that’s been collected from it.

Those taxpayers from the agency’s three-county service area contend in the lawsuit that the increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax rate isn’t legal because it resulted from an unconstitutional provision in the state law allowing Sound Transit to put its current expansion plan on the ballot.

“In our view the constitutional remedy is to eliminate the section which authorizes the levy,” said attorney Joel Ard, of Bainbridge Island.

He and attorney David DeWolf, of Spokane, filed the case on behalf of the residents, which include Roger and Mary Struthers, of Mukilteo, and Frank Maietto, of Snohomish. All three Snohomish County residents have backed car tab limiting initiatives pushed by Tim Eyman, of Mukilteo.

“I feel we were misled by Sound Transit and I feel they lied to the people about what it was going to cost,” Mary Struthers said Wednesday.

The lawsuit targets a piece of the financing package for Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion expansion that passed in November 2016 on the strength of support in Snohomish and King counties. It was rejected by voters in Pierce County.

It adds 62 miles of new Link light-rail line, including an extension to Everett Station by 2036, via Paine Field.

To pay for the upgrades, the sales tax went up half a percent within the district. There’s also a new property tax assessment of 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. And the tax rate for figuring car tab fees went from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent.

The lawsuit does not affect the sales and property taxes approved by voters.

It does seek to roll back the car tab fee to 0.3 percent, which would deprive the agency of a cornerstone of its funding.

“The lawsuit seeks to eliminate Sound Transit’s ability to collect voter-approved MVET revenues,” Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said in a statement. “We are confident in the validity of the law and will be reviewing and responding to the lawsuit.

“Since voters’ decisive approval of ST3, highway congestion has only worsened, and it will continue to worsen,” the statement continued. “Any reduction of MVET revenues would delay or kill voter-approved transit alternatives.”

When the car tab fee increase took effect in March 2017, it triggered widespread sticker shock as some vehicle owners reported their bills nearly tripled.

A contributing factor is the transit authority’s calibration of car tab fees using a 1996 depreciation schedule that tends to overvalue older vehicles. That is the schedule Sound Transit used after voters approved its original 0.3 MVET rate.

Lawmakers drew up a new depreciation schedule in 2006 that better reflects a car’s actual value. But in the 2015 law clearing the way for ST3 to go to the ballot, they allowed Sound Transit to keep using the older depreciation schedule until 2028.

Amid backlash from the public, lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass a law forcing Sound Transit to either start using the newer depreciation schedule sooner or figure out how much money vehicle owners would save under the new schedule and send them a check.

The lawsuit takes a different tack. It targets a certain paragraph in the law, saying the wording doesn’t pass constitutional muster because it does not identify a valuation schedule.

“It is really about making sure legislators know what they’re voting on and the citizens can keep track of what the legislators are doing,” said Ard, the attorney. “In this case, nobody monitoring the bill would know how they are changing the law.”

The lawsuit was filed against Sound Transit and the state, which collects the car tab fees on behalf of the agency. Each has 20 days to respond. The court must certify the case before it attains class-action status.

Herald reporter Noah Haglund contributed to this story.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

A semi-truck rolled over blocking all traffic lanes Thursday morning on I-5 north just south of Arlington on Sept. 21, 2023. (Washington State Patrol)
Overturned trailer spills fish onto I-5 near Arlington, closing lanes

The crash blocked all lanes, forcing drivers going north during rush hour to use the left shoulder.

The Marysville Municipal Jail is pictured Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Marysville weighs mandatory jail time for repeated ‘public disorder’

The “three strikes” proposal sets a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for crimes like public drug use and trespassing.

Everett police on patrol heard gunshots near 26th Street and Lombard Avenue and closed off multiple roads as they investigated on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Everett Police Department)
3 teens arrested after gunfire in downtown Everett

No one was injured. Police heard gunfire in the area of 26th Street and Lombard Avenue.

It’s time to celebrate and say thanks

Local journalism — and community support — will be the stars of Behind the News Stories on Oct. 24 in Edmonds.

Most Read