Seattle and King County are leading a coalition of government agencies and transit groups in a joint lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tim Eyman-sponsored Initiative 976, which will cap car-tab fees at $30 statewide.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Seattle City Attorney’s Office filed the lawsuit on Nov. 13 with Pacifica Law Group, which is representing the Port of Seattle, Washington State Transit Association, the Association of Washington Cities and several other plaintiffs.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced Seattle and King County’s intent to file suit against I-976 on Nov. 7, when it appeared likely the initiative would pass.

Holmes said at the time that one argument would be that the initiative violates the single-subject rule, “which prevents unscrupulous initiative sponsors from using seemingly popular provisions to gain passage of unpopular ones,” according to the lawsuit. The complaint states language in the initiative falsely claimed voters could approve vehicle-licensing fees beyond the $30 cap, “even though I-976 repealed the statutory basis for such a vote.”

The lawsuit refers to I-976 as a “poorly drafted hodge-podge,” and further alleges constitutional violations that include subject-in-title requirements — “misleading voters on the true nature and impact of the Initiative” — failing to notify voters about the state statutes I-976 would repeal, “impairing contractual obligations and expectations,” and overriding election results approving local taxes, which “is a fundamental rule in our Constitution…”

The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance creating a transportation benefit district (TBD) in 2010, and implemented a $20 vehicle licensing fee in May 2011. The TBD board then placed a $60 fee for preserving and extending transit service through King County Metro on the general election ballot in 2014.

King County Metro expects to lose funding for 175,000 annual transit service hours through Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District. Metro also anticipates cutting $22.8 million in Regional Mobility Grant Program awards, $29.2 million for other transit-related grants, including RapidRide investments in Seattle, $36.3 million for the Access paratransit program and $7.19 million for the vanpool program between 2020 and 2025, according to the lawsuit.

On top of the $32.8 million the City of Seattle expects to lose annually through vehicle-licensing fees for purchasing transit service hours, providing ORCA cards to students and other underserved populations, fixing potholes, street cleaning, creating protected bike lanes, and other capital and service programs, another $35 million in funds could be lost through the Multimodal Account funds and Regional Mobility Grant Programs.

“The voters of Seattle not only overwhelmingly rejected I-976 at the polls, they have, in the past, authorized significant voter-approved charges,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint also states that lost funding will result in increased regional congestion that will have a negative impact on the Port of Seattle’s transportation routes.

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction in King County Superior Court to stop I-976 from taking effect while the initiative is being litigated. If an injunction is not granted, I-976 is supposed to take effect on Dec. 5.

I-976 will have major impacts on Sound Transit’s plans to expand light rail service in the region, eliminating a 0.3 percent tax on vehicle sales approved by voters in Sound Transit’s King, Pierce and Snohomish County coverage area back in 1996. It also requires that the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) be calculated using the Kelley Blue Book valuation method, rather than an old depreciation schedule Sound Transit currently uses. The motor vehicle excise tax applies when purchasing a vehicle, as well as for annual renewals (car tabs).

It would also require Sound Transit to retire, defease or refinance any outstanding bonds when allowed under bond terms. Eyman’s I-776 failed to strip funds from Sound Transit a decade ago because the agency had already pledged revenue to bondholders through 2028, when the 0.3 percent MVET will expire. A new valuation method was adopted in 1999, and will go into effect when bonds are retired in 2028.

Voters approved increasing the Regional Transit Authority MVET from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent in 2016 for Sound Transit 3 light rail expansion and other transit improvements. An extension to West Seattle and Ballard is supposed to be delivered by 2030 and 2035, respectively.

The Sound Transit Board plans to address the impacts of I-976 and how the agency will respond during its Nov. 21 meeting.

Coalition Complaint on I-976 by branax2000 on Scribd