King County will challenge legality of I-976

County Executive Dow Constantine: ‘We must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy’

King County Executive Dow Constantine is preparing to file a legal challenge against Initiative 976, which was approved by voters across the state in the Nov. 5 election.

A press release from the Executive’s office on Nov. 6 said Constantine asked the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office to prepare a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of I-976. The initiative promises $30 car tabs, but could result in more than $100 million in cuts to Metro services between 2020 and 2025.

The county reports this could include $22.8 million to the regional mobility grant program for nine projects including RapidRide expansion, access to transit, and reduction in services on Route 101 in Renton. In addition, Burien, Kent, Tukwila and Seattle would see cuts of $29.2 million in grants for RapidRide investments. Some $12.2 million would be cut to the Access paratransit program, according to the county.

The state Office of Financial Management estimated the state would lose roughly $1.9 billion in revenue through 2025. This includes $1.5 billion for the Multimodal Account, of which nearly half of goes to transit across the state.

“The passage of I-976 underscores the ongoing need for comprehensive state tax reform, but in the short term, we must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy,” Constantine said, referring to the political activist behind the initiative.

Eyman said in an email that state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who could end up defending the initiative in court, should recuse himself from defending the initiative. Ferguson has filed lawsuits in recent years against Eyman.

King County does not collect vehicle license fees or motor vehicle excise taxes, which are repealed under I-976. But the state, Sound Transit and 13 cities in the county use funding from those sources to pay for projects, some of which affect Metro operations.

The county could use one-time funding to bridge the budget until the state Legislature acts, or until replacement revenue packages are presented to voters. However, capital funds are usually used for purchasing material and building infrastructure, not operations.

“Today, our economy is generating unprecedented prosperity, while at the same time governments are forced to cobble together transit and road systems from antiquated, inadequate and unpopular funding sources,” according to Constantine’s statement.

Washington state does not have an income tax. Instead, it relies on property taxes, sales tax, voter-approved levies and special tax districts. I-976 destroyed the ability of transit agencies like Sound Transit to raise funds for voter-approved projects like the ST3 light rail build-out. The transit agency warned that it would take an additional two decades to fulfill ST3 if I-976 passed, pushing back its horizon to 2060. Sound Transit has said it could lose some $20 billion in funding.

Washington’s tax code has often been cited as the most unfair in the country. Lower income residents end up paying a greater percentage of their income, while wealthy residents escape relatively unscathed. Local governments are also prohibited from raising property taxes by more than 1% each year. This combination has hobbled local governments across the state, and in King County, this setup is leading to a situation where the county roads capital project fund will be depleted within six years.

Voters in King County voted against I-976, with more than 56% of voters casting ballots against the initiative as of Nov. 6. King, Thurston, Whatcom, Jefferson, Island and San Juan counties were the only counties to vote against the initiative. Snohomish and Pierce counties, both of which are within Sound Transit’s taxing area, voted to approve the initiative with 61.67% and 67.61%, respectively. Thurston County was a 50-50 split.

All of the Central Washington counties, where car tabs are much lower, voted overwhelmingly for I-976, as did much of Southwest Washington. Eastern Washington counties including Spokane, Whitman and Garfield counties also voted for the initiative, but with margins in the mid-50% range.

Vehicle tab fee initiatives from Eyman have been approved in the past and were then either not enforced or invalidated, such as I-776 in 2002.

More in News

Federal Way resident Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, 17, died Jan. 27, 2017. Courtesy photo
Law enforcement challenges report on sting operation that killed Federal Way teen

King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight’s findings rattle Sheriff’s Office, police union.

Unstable housing? Apply for Section 8

Applications open in February for housing vouchers

In 2018, the city of Seattle approved and then repealed a head tax within a month. It would have levied a $275 per employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million annually. Sound Publishing file photo
County head tax bill passes committee

Bill would let King County levy a tax on businesses to fund housing and address homelessness.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the first bill of the 2020 legislative session into law. On the right stands the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is wearing a red tie. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gov. Inslee signs tax bill to help fund higher education

Law shifts a portion of the tax burden to large tech companies.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Metro bus fleet will be electrified by 2035

Future base in South King County would house hundreds of the zero-emission vehicles.

Three-quarters of the suicide deaths among children ages 10 to 14 are caused by firearms, according to a new report from the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington. File photo
King County studies youth gun violence amid rising suicides

It’s unclear what’s driving the trend.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.

Theo Koshar, Janet McIntosh and Robin Kelley of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery work to find road drains and clear them of leaves, outside the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in Issaquah, WA on Feb. 6, 2020. Mitchell Atencio/Staff Photo
Rapid rainfall has led to flooding, impacting all parts of King County.

County warns residents to obey barricades for safety.

Redmond mayor elected to Sound Cities Association board

She was elected to represent the North Caucus.

Black Press file photo
North Bend facility will serve as U.S. quarantine zone

Facility will be one of five nationwide.

Sound Publishing file photo
King County Council could place roads levy lift on 2020 ballot

Levy could increase taxes for a median home by about $224 a year.

Swedish Redmond nurses, staff launch three-day strike

The strikers are among nearly 8,000 nurses and caregivers at Swedish-Providence locations throughout the region to strike.