Dow Constantine speaking
King County Executive Dow Constantine leads a NO on I-976 press conference in Seattle (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

Although many bal­lots remain to be count­ed, the bat­tle over Tim Eyman’s Ini­tia­tive 976 appears set to shift to the legal arena.

King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine announced today he has asked Pros­e­cut­ing Attor­ney Dan Sat­ter­berg to pre­pare a legal chal­lenge to I‑976, which threat­ens bil­lions of dol­lars in bipar­ti­san, vot­er-approved trans­porta­tion funding.

Con­stan­tine did not spec­i­fy a timetable for com­menc­ing the legal chal­lenge, but the law­suit could be filed with­in days or weeks. Bar­ring a court-ordered injunc­tion, Ini­tia­tive 976 would oth­er­wise take effect in ear­ly December.

I‑976 is fail­ing in King Coun­ty, just like Eyman’s pre­vi­ous mea­sures to slash vehi­cle fees (I‑695 in 1999 and I‑776 in 2002). Eyman repeat­ed­ly declared with absolute con­fi­dence that King Coun­ty and even Seat­tle would sup­port I‑976.

“The pas­sage of I‑976 under­scores the ongo­ing need for com­pre­hen­sive state tax reform, but for 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.

“There will be many dis­cus­sions in the weeks and months ahead to deter­mine how to over­come the loss of safe­ty and mobil­i­ty caused by this irre­spon­si­ble ini­tia­tive, but the impact of I‑976 to trans­porta­tion is – in a word – devastating.”

“We and the City of Seat­tle share a set a prin­ci­ples with which we will approach mobil­i­ty reduc­tions,” the Exec­u­tive added, allud­ing to Seat­tle’s invest­ment in expand­ed Metro bus ser­vice hours, an invest­ment I‑976 attempts to repeal.

“These prin­ci­ples include: min­i­miz­ing impacts to vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, espe­cial­ly those with low-incomes and peo­ple of col­or; main­tain­ing the ten and fif­teen minute ser­vice fre­quen­cy when­ev­er pos­si­ble; and min­i­miz­ing overcrowding.”

Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tives typ­i­cal­ly have con­sti­tu­tion­al defects, and King Coun­ty will attempt to prove that Ini­tia­tive 976 is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al in order to bar it from being imple­ment­ed. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son’s office will be in the awk­ward posi­tion of hav­ing to defend the ini­tia­tive at the same time prepar­ing for tri­al against Tim Eyman over his many cam­paign finance law violations.

Fer­gu­son will like­ly direct his office to have sep­a­rate teams work­ing on each case that do not com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er about the respec­tive cas­es. The cam­paign finance unit will undoubt­ed­ly con­tin­ue to han­dle the Eyman lit­i­ga­tion while anoth­er team attempts to defend I‑976.

Oth­er local gov­ern­ments — like Seat­tle — could poten­tial­ly join King Coun­ty in suing to over­turn I‑976. Seat­tle has a lot to lose if I‑976 is imple­ment­ed, and its city-lev­el vehi­cle fee is vot­er-approved. Exec­u­tive Con­stan­ti­ne’s office pro­vid­ed this map show­ing all of the Metro bus routes that could be affect­ed by the loss of fund­ing com­ing from Seat­tle’s trans­porta­tion ben­e­fit district:

Seattle Metro bus routes jeopardized by I-976
A map of bus routes that are sup­port­ed by vehi­cle fees paid by Seat­tle taxpayers

“Our state’s tax sys­tem is inef­fi­cient, unfair, volatile, inad­e­quate, and bad for busi­ness,” Exec­u­tive Con­stan­tine argued. “Local gov­ern­ments have few tools at their dis­pos­al to pro­vide all of the infra­struc­ture and ser­vices on which suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ties and a thriv­ing econ­o­my depend. 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. We can and must do better.”

Exec­u­tive Con­stan­tine is cor­rect that we need mean­ing­ful and com­pre­hen­sive tax reform. The Leg­is­la­ture needs to stop talk­ing about reform­ing our tax code and actu­al­ly start tak­ing action. Until that becomes a pri­or­i­ty, we will con­tin­ue to be ham­strung by an inequitable, sales-tax depen­dent sys­tem of rais­ing rev­enue that Tim Eyman can exploit to under­mine peo­ple’s con­fi­dence in their government.

Exec­u­tive Con­stan­tine is also whol­ly jus­ti­fied in mov­ing for­ward with a legal chal­lenge. Wash­ing­ton can­not afford Ini­tia­tive 976. It’s irre­spon­si­ble and immoral. It must be defeat­ed. If it is not defeat­ed in this elec­tion, it must be chal­lenged in court. If the courts do not strike it down, there will need to be a leg­isla­tive response to ensure that it can­not be imple­ment­ed as designed.

The fight against I‑976 must and shall con­tin­ue until I‑976 is vanquished.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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