ST3 higher car tab fees ruled constitutional, appeal to state Supreme Court likely

TACOMA, Wash. — On Friday, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson shot down a class action lawsuit that claims Sound Transit fooled voters when it approved the Sound Transit 3 light rail expansion measure in 2016. But those pushing against the higher car tab fees vow to take the matter to the state Supreme Court.

“I do find that I need to deny plaintiffs' motion for summary judgement that the statute is unconstitutional,” Judge Nelson said as she cited previous case law.

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, who represents Pierce County, has led the charge against the higher car tab fees and was in the Tacoma courtroom for the ruling.

“We're disappointed with the outcome,” O’Ban said.  “But this is why we have appellate courts.”

O'Ban led the failed attempt in the Legislature to correct what he said are over-inflated car values that make your car tab fees higher.

Under ST3, the state values vehicles based on the manufacturer's suggested retail price, which is  the higher price a dealer would use rather than a source such as Kelly Blue Book.

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“There isn't any question that Sound Transit drafted the statute, did so in a way that obscured what it's true intent was, which was to resurrect a valuation schedule that the voters had rejected twice because it was unfair,” O'Ban said.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick applauded the ruling that keeps intact funding for 62 more miles of light rail and expanded express bus service.

“This ruling is great news for the commuters of this region,” Patrick said.  “We're very confident in the appropriateness of the legislation that allowed the voters to pass out of crippling congestion.  And we're confident in the fact we'll prevail at the Supreme Court.”

There's no estimated timeline for the appeal, but O'Ban said he won't wait for the state Supreme Court. He plans to re-introduce legislation in January that failed this past spring.

Judge Nelson also said this case is likely far from over.

“We'll find out, I'm sure if some of the more complex argument given here will carry the day,” she said.