Judge blocks Washington Initiative 976 from taking effect on Dec. 5

At the election on November 5, Washington Initiative 976 was approved, receiving 53 percent of the vote. Initiative 976 was designed to limit annual license fees for vehicles to $30, repeal Sound Transit’s authorization to impose motor vehicle excise taxes, and reduce other vehicle taxes and fees. Tim Eyman proposed Initiative 976, which was his 17th initiative to appear on a statewide ballot.
 
On November 13, 2019, nine plaintiffs, including the governments of Seattle and King County, filed a legal complaint in the King County Superior Court to declare that Initiative 976 violated the Washington Constitution. The complaint named the State of Washington as the defendant. Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) was tasked with defending the state. The complaint read, “As with prior initiatives by the same sponsor, I-976 is a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution.” The complaint stated that Initiative 976 violated the single-subject rule, the separate subject-in-title requirement, the requirement to disclose the repeal of statutes, and other constitutional provisions.
 
On November 26, 2019, Judge Marshall Ferguson blocked Initiative 976 from taking effect on December 5, pending the conclusion of the case. Judge Ferguson said that plaintiffs possessed “a clear legal and equitable right because they are likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional challenge… specifically the ‘subject-in-title’ requirement.” The subject-in-title requirement states that “No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Plaintiffs contended, “… the [I-976] title misleadingly suggests that voters will retain the authority to approve vehicle charges, but several provisions of I-976 then repeal statutes that provide for voter-approved charges.”
 
Judge Ferguson also said, “If the collection of vehicle license fees and taxes stop on December 5, 2019, there will be no way to retroactively collect those revenues if, at the conclusion of this case, the Court concludes that I-976 is unconstitutional and permanently enjoins its enforcement. Conversely, refunds of fees and taxes impacted by I-976 can be issued if the State ultimately prevails in this matter, albeit at some expense to the State.”
 
Attorney General Ferguson responded to the injunction, “This is not a final judgment, and this case is far from over. We will continue working to defend the will of the voters. This case will ultimately wind up before the State Supreme Court.” Tim Eyman called on people to “join me and refuse to renew your vehicle taxes.” He added, “It is absolutely critical that the people of Washington state, regardless of how they voted, not pay taxes and fees that the voters voted to get rid of.”
 



About the author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at ryan.byrne@ballotpedia.org

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