Saying it would cause “immediate and irreparable injuries to our city,” City of Seattle officials plan to file a joint lawsuit with King County next week that seeks to stop Initiative 976 from taking effect.
The latest effort of longtime initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, I-976 aims to reduce the various car-tab taxes across the state to a flat $30 and repeal city authority to charge car-tab fees for local transportation projects. It also attempts to roll back car-tab taxes used by Sound Transit. Most of the initiative would take effect on Dec. 5.
Seattle and the county will request an injunction to pause the initiative, City Attorney Pete Holmes said Thursday. I-976 was approved by voters in Tuesday’s election.
Holmes said the lawsuit would make several legal challenges to the initiative, though he would not offer many before filing the suit. He said the city would argue the initiative violates a rule in the state Constitution that initiatives must deal with a single subject. Over the last two decades, multiple Eyman initiatives have been challenged on those grounds.
Holmes and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan emphasized that a portion of Seattle’s car-tab fee, $60 that pays for bus service and transit passes, was approved by voters.
“That’s why I’m filing this lawsuit: to uphold the will of Seattle voters,” Holmes said.
Ahead of the city’s announcement, Eyman decried decisions to sue. “Everybody in the state should be able to get the policy they voted for even if Seattle doesn’t want it,” Eyman said.
While about 55% of the vote statewide supported I-976 as of Thursday, 57% of King County voters were rejecting it.
“The state should not override the will of Seattle voters and tell us how to invest our tax dollars,” Durkan said.
I-976 repeals city authority to charge car-tab fees through transportation benefit districts. About 60 cities across the state use those fees, including Seattle, where an $80 fee includes $20 to fund road maintenance and $60 for King County Metro bus service and transit passes.
Metro has warned that without that funding, it could cut service on Seattle bus routes starting in March. The agency has not released detailed plans for cuts.
Seattle expected to raise about $33 million from car-tab fees next year, with about $25 million to support bus service and transit passes and $8 million for pothole repair, bike lanes and other city projects.
Those fees make up nearly 90% of the city’s pothole repair funding, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) said. The Seattle Transportation Benefit District has about $20 million in reserves, according to a recent report. Metro predicts it could make cuts even if the district used those reserves.
Seattle City Council members, who are currently in the process of tweaking Durkan’s 2020 budget, have not said how they plan to replace that money. Durkan said Thursday the city would likely seek short-term fixes, which is likely to include using money in reserves. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said she does not expect to dramatically change the 2020 budget.
I-976 is expected to be defended in court by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. That office is also bringing a high-profile campaign finance lawsuit against Eyman in which he has twice been held in contempt.
Eyman has demanded someone else defend the initiative. “I don’t think anybody would ever take seriously that [Attorney General Bob Ferguson] would put forth the effort the voters deserve,” he said Wednesday.
Ferguson, a Democrat, defended his office’s role.
“When the people pass an initiative, it is the job of the Attorney General’s Office to defend that initiative against legal challenges,” he said in a prepared statement. “That’s a responsibility my office takes very seriously.” Ferguson’s office last defended an Eyman initiative in 2016.
Rob McKenna, a Republican and a former Washington state attorney general, said the situation is not cause for alarm and that the cases would involve lawyers from two different parts of the attorney general’s office.
“The lawyers in that office are highly professional,” said McKenna, who was elected attorney general in 2004 and 2008. “They take their responsibility for defending adopted state laws very seriously and they also hate to lose. So they’ll go to court and give it their best effort.”