King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson ordered the injunction be put in place the next morning after the hearing. Attorney General Bob Ferguson plans to appeal.
King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson ordered the injunction be put in place the next morning after the hearing. Attorney General Bob Ferguson plans to appeal.

King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson ruled in favor of a motion to impose a preliminary injunction regarding the implementation of Initiative 976 on Wednesday morning, Nov. 27.

The initiative, which Washington voters approved by a nearly 53 percent margin in the Nov. 5 general election, caps car-tab fees at $30. I-976 would have gone into effect on Dec. 5, but the injunction has halted the initiative's implementation until its constitutionality is determined in court.

Ferguson heard arguments from legal counsel representing the plaintiffs and the Washington Attorney General's Office, which is defending the state initiative, during a Nov. 26 hearing in King County Superior Court.

Deputy prosecutor David Hackett represented King County during the hearing, and assistant city attorney Carolyn Boies represented the City of Seattle. Pacifica Law Group attorney Matthew Segal represented plaintiffs from the Washington State Transit Association, Association of Washington Cities, Port of Seattle and several other agencies. Assistant Attorney General Alan Copsey argued for the state.

"Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they possess a clear legal and equitable right because they are likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional challenge to I-976 based upon Article II, Section 19 of the Washington Constitution, specifically the 'subject-in-title' requirement," Ferguson wrote in his order granting the injunction.

Ferguson states there are "substantial concerns" revolving around whether the ballot title was misleading, which would violate the Washington Constitution.

The ballot title reads: "Initiative Measure No. 976 concerns motor vehicle taxes and fees. This measure would repeal, reduce or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value."

Ferguson decided that the title had the capacity to mislead voters by the clause, "except voter-approved charges," because voters could have thought previous voter-approved charges would be exempted from the initiative, retaining the fees that previous votes had tacked onto the cost of car tabs, when the actual text of the initiative repeals all previously voter-approved charges, like Seattle's 2014 vote to increase car-tab fees to bolster transit.

Copsey argued during the hearing that the ballot title is only supposed to give general information that voters would then check against the actual letter of the law. Ferguson said the term "future" could have been added to the "except voter-approved charges" clause. This would show that old fees would be repealed, and that any future votes regarding car-tab fees would be exempted.

In his argument for the injunction, Hackett said the title begins with general language about the initiative, but then "it goes on to specify exactly what this initiative will do, and that is where the falsity comes in."

Ferguson wrote in his decision that in order for the injunction to be granted, the plaintiffs needed to show that the initiative's implementation would violate the rights afforded by the Washington Constitution. He decided that "enforcement of what is likely an unconstitutional law would invade Plaintiff's constitutional rights."

Ferguson also wrote that the plaintiffs must have shown immediate and irreparable harm for the preliminary injunction to be granted. Primarily, he found that if the law were to be enforced before its constitutionality was decided in court, "King County Metro would reduce transit service by 110,000 hours as a result of revenue cuts forced by I-976.

"After December 9, 2019, such reductions would be permanent for the March 2020 service change date and the lost service could not be restored until September 2020 at the earliest," Ferguson's court order states. "The reduction in Metro service hours would be equivalent for full-time work for 82 Metro employees."

Copsey argued that these service cuts would be the result of lost revenue that could be replaced by other sources, like the sale of property or by reserve accounts.

"Whether we get money from a building sale or a bake sale, it does not matter," Boies said — once the lost revenue is gone, it's gone for good. She said that all monies are earmarked for specific purposes, and it is not as simple as just using a rainy day fund to recoup losses until a more permanent solution is found.

In a written response to Ferguson's ruling, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes congratulated Boies on her successful argument. Seattle residents voted I-976 down by about 60 percent.

“Seattleites can take a collective sigh of relief knowing they won’t suffer in their commutes while this case is being argued," Holmes wrote. "I’m thankful that Judge Ferguson made the prudent decision today. It’s frustrating that Washingtonians were asked to vote on such a misleading measure. Looking ahead, if our Courts ultimately strike down the initiative, I hope we can all agree it’s a good thing that unconstitutional measures not be enacted.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a news release lauding the injunction as a win for the city's ORCA Opportunity program, providing about 14,000 Seattle residents with free transit passes.

“This is good news for transit, safety and equity in Seattle," she said. "We are pleased that the Court recognized the severe and irreparable harm to our residents that would have occurred without this injunction. Our residents rely on Metro bus service, ORCA cards, neighborhood safety improvements and road maintenance."

At the end of the hearing, initiative sponsor Tim Eyman made an outburst in court, demanding that Ferguson hear out his own arguments regarding the injunction on the sole basis that Eyman was the sponsor of the initiative. It took two attempts, but Ferguson was able to silence the disruption.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement earlier in the day, criticizing Eyman's outburst as being “wildly inappropriate” and harmful to their case.

The attorney general later issued another statement that he will file an emergency appeal of the injunction to the State Supreme Court, with the goal of getting the injunction reversed in time for I-976 to take effect on Dec. 5. This would also potentially skirt the lower-court process and provided an ultimate decision by the State Supreme Court, which is where the coalition's lawsuit was expected to end up eventually.