Riders board a Seattle-bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center in April. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file).

Riders board a Seattle-bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center in April. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file).

Judge tosses case seeking refund of car-tab fees for transit

Seven people, including three from Snohomish County, sued the agency in June.

Associated Press

TACOMA — A Pierce County judge Friday dismissed a class-action lawsuit challenging Sound Transit’s ability to collect millions of dollars in car-tab taxes that voters approved in 2016 for mass transit.

Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson sided with the transit agency, ruling the 2015 law that put the transportation funding package known as Sound Transit 3 on the ballot was constitutional.

“The judge’s prompt dismissal of this lawsuit is good news for commuters across our region,” said Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick.

“The elimination of (motor vehicle excise tax) revenues would eliminate and delay light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit projects that are critical to expanding the capacity of our transportation system as population growth keeps worsening congestion,” he said.

Car-tab taxes provide the second-largest source of money for the transit agency to carry out the voter-approved expansion of bus and light-rail services in central Puget Sound.

Seven Puget Sound residents — including three from Snohomish County — filed a class-action lawsuit in June, arguing in part that the 2015 law violated the Constitution because it did not include the full text of the statute it was amending. The lawsuit said the 2015 law references an outdated formula for calculating car-tab fees that resulted in higher taxes.

Joel Ard, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that Sound Transit has no authority to collect car-tab taxes at inflated rates.

The lawsuit wanted Sound Transit to refund $400 million it says was improperly collected.

“It was a big gut punch. It was so clear,” said initiative promoter Tim Eyman of Mukilteo, who campaigned against the 2016 ballot measure. “What I think happened is the judge chickened out.”

Eyman attended the hearing then traveled to the fairgrounds in Puyallup to gather signatures on his latest initiative to the Legislature to lower all car tabs to $30.

Citing Friday’s ruling, he said, “This is why we’ve got to take our case to the voters with our initiative.”

Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.

An earlier version incorrectly stated Tim Eyman did not attend the hearing.

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