Eymans initiatives have lost in court eight times before.
Eyman's initiatives have lost in court eight times before. Lester Black

Tim Eyman’s $30 car tab measure might end up being blocked by a court less than a month after statewide voters approved the measure. The city of Seattle and King County are leading a coalition of governments that have asked a King County judge to temporarily block I-976 from going into effect while their lawsuit against the $30 car tab measure moves forward.

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A hearing has been set for next week, meaning the ballot initiative could be blocked within a month of the measure passing with a nearly six point statewide margin.

Eight other parties are joining Seattle’s lawsuit, which argues Tim Eyman’s ballot initiative violates multiple aspects of state law. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called the initiative “unwise and unconstitutional” in a statement.

“The harm created by this initiative will be long-lasting and irreparable,” Durkan said. “We ask the court to protect our most vulnerable residents who rely on transit, safe roads, and crosswalks, and our students who rely on their ORCA passes to get to and from school.”

The nine parties' request for a preliminary injunction will be heard in King County Superior Court on Tuesday, Nov. 26. Most aspects of I-976 are scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 5 of this year.

To win an injunction and temporarily block the initiative from going into effect, the city’s coalition needs to convince a judge that I-976 will both cause substantial damages and that their lawsuit has a good shot at winning in court.

It won’t be hard to show that Eyman’s initiative will cause harm to the government. By cutting car tabs to a $30 flat rate, the measure will devastate state and local governments transit budgets by billions of dollars. The initiative will cost Seattle $2.68 million in revenue in just the first 27 days of taking effect and lead to King County Metro cutting 175,000 annual bus transit hours, according to the lawsuit. The state’s transit accounts will lose $1.5 billion in the first six years.

The city’s lawsuit might have a harder time convincing a judge that the plaintiffs will be able to successfully argue the measure violates state law. The coalition's lawsuit argues that multiple aspects of Eyman's initiative are unconstitutional, including that it violates the state’s “single subject” rule, that it allows a statewide vote to preempt local elections results, and that it illegally cancels contracts that the state has already signed.

The state’s “single-subject” rule requires that ballot measures only embrace one topic and that the measure’s subject is fully explained in the ballot measure’s description. This is supposed to prevent ballot initiatives from deceiving voters. Eyman’s initiative was sold as only limiting vehicle licensing fees at $30, but the lawsuit argues it takes on additional subjects, including: refinancing existing transit bonds, revoking taxing authority of transit agencies, and revoking a specific vehicle sales tax, which is legally separate from a licensing fee.

The lawsuit also argues the ballot measure deceived voters by telling voters the measure “would… limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges…” The ballot measure’s summary goes on to explain that it only provides an exception for “voter-approved charges after the effective date” but, because the ballot measure’s title didn’t include the “after” part, the ballot is misleading.

The measure is further deceptive, the lawsuit argues, because I-976 actually eliminates the possibility of voters approving future licensing fees by removing the authority for transit agencies like Sound Transit to collect such fees.

“A voter who cast his or her vote based on the ballot title would have no notice of the broad repeal of local voter control and authority, and would instead have been affirmatively misled to believe that voters retained their authority,” the lawsuit states. “This is not only unconscionable, it is unconstitutional…”

This argument has also been made by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, whose column is actually cited in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit goes on to argue that I-976 illegally allows statewide voters to overrule local elections. In 2014, Seattle voters approved new vehicle licensing fees to pay for bus service and other transportation needs, but I-976 overturns those voter-approved fees. That is essentially allowing voters in Puyallup and Snohomish the ability to overrule Seattle’s own local elections, which the lawsuit says is against state law.

“Nowhere does our law provide for an election whereby the voters of the state get to override the election results of a locality prior to the time those election results are up for reconsideration at the ballot box,” the lawsuit says.

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The lawsuit also argues that I-976 illegally cancels existing contracts for transit work, by pulling out the funding for work that the state government has already signed contracts for. State law does not allow the reversal of already signed contracts.

In addition to Seattle and King County, the lawsuit’s coalition of plaintiffs includes the Garfield County Transportation Authority, the Washington State Transit Association, the Association of Washington Cities, the Port of Seattle, Intercity Transit, the Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington, and Michael Rogers. Rogers is the only individual named in the lawsuit. He has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and claims that Eyman’s initiative will cause him harm by restricting his mobility through transit cuts.

If a judge temporarily blocks the initiative and gives the coalition a preliminary injunction, it won’t be the first time an Eyman initiative has lost in court: eight of Eyman’s previous initiatives have been either partially or entirely thrown out by courts.