The Washington Supreme Court unanimously struck down Tim Eyman's Initiative 976 in a ruling issued Thursday. The measure would have steeply discounted the price of car registrations, while gutting transportation budgets statewide.
Among many government leaders breathing a sigh of relief is King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci, who also chairs the King County Transportation Benefits District and the Sound Transit System Expansion Committee.
She suspects many in the region who voted for I-976 did so because of sticker shock. Car tab fees shot up after the passage of a measure to fund Sound Transit’s expansion. The agency uses a formula that inflates vehicle values, compared to the commonly used Kelly Blue Book.
“That doesn’t seem fair to people. And I think there's still some work to be done there,” Balducci said. “But the Supreme Court ruled that the ballot title was confusing and it seems really likely that people were confused about exactly what their vote meant.”
In the ruling, the justices said the ballot description of the measure was misleading, and that it violated the state Constitution's requirement that initiatives be limited to a single subject.
Balducci says I-976 was an attack on the expansion of Sound Transit’s regional light rail network. It would have also gutted budgets for basic road repairs and maintenance, which is why a coalition of cities joined King County to fight it in court. But voters were likely responding to the promise of radically lower car tab fees, especially after the fees went up.
“I think many voters did not understand how their car tab taxes would go through the roof,” after the approval of the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, says Sen. Steve O’Ban, a Republican from the 28th legislative district in Pierce County, who is running for re-election.
"I mean, my email box and calls were full of people who didn't understand the implications of ST3, " O'Ban said.
He says voters want tax relief — that’s why they approved the initiative. He already has a bill that he says mirrors I-976 closely. He’s cleaning it up to conform to the Supreme Court ruling and intends to file it this week.
“But essentially, what we need to do here is give the voters what they voted for," O'Ban said. "And that is substantial car tab tax relief."
He says he wants Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session to address this, just as Gov. Gary Locke did after the first car tab initiative was struck down 20 years ago.