State Supreme Court strikes down $30 car tab initiative

SEATTLE — The Washington State Supreme Court has issued a ruling striking down Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 for $30 car tabs across the state.

The court found the initiative to be unconstitutional for violating the single-subject rule -- meaning initiatives must be limited to one subject -- and having an inaccurate ballot title.

Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday called it “justice for Seattle voters.”

A coalition of cities, along with King County and Garfield County’s transit agency brought the lawsuit, saying it was unconstitutional and would eviscerate funds they need to pay for transit and road maintenance.

A King County judge’s injunction kept the initiative on hold while the Supreme Court made its ruling.

According to the state Office of Financial Management, I-976 would have cost state and local governments more than $4 billion in revenue over the next six years.

Seattle said it would have to cut 110,000 bus hours.

Garfield County said it would have to halve the transportation services it provides to help seniors and disabled people get to the grocery store, the doctor, and other appointments.

Eyman is a longtime anti-tax initiative promoter who also ran for governor this year, but did not make it past the primary. His $30 car tab initiative first passed 20 years ago. It was struck down in court before being enacted by lawmakers. The fees have crept up as lawmakers allowed them, and voters in some places approved them.

“I hope this signifies the end of the Eyman era,” said Anna Zivarts of Disability Rights Washington.

After last November’s vote, Zivarts confronted Eyman at Seattle City Hall when he tried to crash Durkan’s news conference announcing a legal challenge to I-976.

“Now is the time to start focusing on building the transportation system that we need for all of us and stop allowing him to derail that,” Zivarts said Thursday.

News that the Supreme Court struck down I-976 frustrated supporters.

“I think the people’s vote doesn’t mean anything anymore, and I think that’s wrong,” said Tommy Winterburn, a Mill Creek resident, as he filled up with gas in Seattle.

“For this car, a 2011 (model), I was going to pay $200, $210 for my car tabs, not fair,” Winterburn said.

“I don’t know that I want to spend another 20 years debating over what’s the right level for car tabs,” said King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci. “Maybe we should have a different conversation entirely.”

Balducci said a more stable and progressive funding source should be considered for all government services, including transportation.

Gas taxes are earmarked for highway projects, leaving car tabs and sales taxes among the primary funding sources for transit.

During the pandemic, sales tax revenues have dried up, leaving gaping holes in transit budgets.

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