Chief Justice Debra Stephens
Chief Justice Debra Stephens opens the oral argument in Garfield County v. State.

The effort to stop Tim Eyman’s incred­i­bly destruc­tive Ini­tia­tive 976 from wreak­ing hav­oc upon Wash­ing­ton State’s com­mu­ni­ties is mov­ing into its final phase.

Today, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court is hear­ing oral argu­ment in Garfield Coun­ty Trans­porta­tion Author­i­ty, et al. v. State of Wash­ing­ton, the case that asserts the ini­tia­tive is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al on a num­ber of fronts.

The jus­tices have giv­en each side a half hour to make their respec­tive cas­es, for a total of one hour of oral argu­ment. Nor­mal­ly, the jus­tices would hear from the attor­neys in per­son in the Tem­ple of Jus­tice, but due to COVID-19, argu­ments will be pre­sent­ed remote­ly, with all par­tic­i­pants using video­con­fer­enc­ing technology.

TVW is livestream­ing the oral argu­ment for every­one’s ben­e­fit; if you’d like to fol­low along with us, you are encour­aged and wel­come to.

Oral argu­ment will begin at 1:30 PM.

The Court’s deci­sion (when it is hand­ed down) will be the final word on I‑976. King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge Mar­shall Fer­gu­son pre­vi­ous­ly upheld I‑976 in part while rul­ing oth­er pro­vi­sions uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. The plain­tiffs in the case (now the appel­lants) want the Supreme Court to over­turn Fer­gu­son’s rul­ing and nix I‑976 in its entire­ty. The defen­dants (now the respon­dents) would like the injunc­tion lift­ed and the mea­sure allowed to go into effect.

I‑976 is cur­rent­ly blocked from imple­men­ta­tion by an injunc­tion orig­i­nal­ly issued by Judge Fer­gu­son late last year. The issuance of that injunc­tion pre­vent­ed I‑976 from going into effect on Decem­ber 5th, 2019 as Tim Eyman had intended.

It is com­mon for sev­er­al months to pass in between when the Court hears oral argu­ment in a case and when it reach­es and releas­es a deci­sion. Oral argu­ments are only pre­sent­ed to the Court after all the par­ties have had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate a writ­ten record for the jus­tices in the form of briefs.

As oral argu­ment pro­gress­es, NPI’s Bob­by Aiy­er and I will update this post with our obser­va­tions and reflec­tions. We’ve already pub­lished a primer on the case over at NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense which pro­vides help­ful con­text.

UPDATE, 1:35 PM (Andrew): We’re off and run­ning. Our friend Matthew J. Segal of Paci­fi­ca Law Group is pre­sent­ing first for the appel­lants, explain­ing how the I‑976 bal­lot title is false and mis­lead­ing. He will be fol­lowed in a few min­utes by co-coun­sel David Hack­ett, rep­re­sent­ing King County.

UPDATE, 1:38 PM (Bob­by): Segal wast­ed no time div­ing into the issues of the case, focus­ing on logrolling and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, with a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on the mis­lead­ing “except vot­er-approved charges” lan­guage in the bal­lot title. Segal point­ed out there are “more pro­vi­sions [hav­ing] to do with Sound Tran­sit than thir­ty dol­lar tabs” despite Sound Tran­sit not being men­tioned in the bal­lot title.

UPDATE, 1:42 PM (Andrew): Good ques­tion from Jus­tice Gon­za­lez for Segal about the issues raised by San Juan Coun­ty’s ami­cus brief, per­tain­ing to the por­tion of I‑976 that repeals fund­ing for fer­ry districts.

UPDATE, 1:48 PM (Bob­by): Just pri­or to Jus­tice Gon­za­lez’s ques­tion, Chief Jus­tice Stephens asked if actions on bonds are always a dif­fer­ent sub­ject than tax­a­tion or whether the spe­cif­ic lan­guage in I‑976 makes it an Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 19 vio­la­tor. Segal answered that the spe­cif­ic lan­guage in Sec­tion 16 refer­ring to “the RTA” and out­lin­ing dates for Sound Tran­sit to per­form cer­tain actions are a dif­fer­ent sub­ject from lim­it­ing state-lev­el vehi­cle fees to a catchy number.

UPDATE, 1:54 PM (Andrew): David Hack­ett of King Coun­ty is now pre­sent­ing, sum­ma­riz­ing a sec­ond set of the plain­tiff-appel­lants’ argu­ments. He’s focus­ing on the defects asso­ci­at­ed with the pro­vi­sion that tries to base future vehi­cle fees on Kel­ley Blue Book val­ue, a pro­vi­sion that King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge Mar­shall Fer­gu­son already found to be uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. Hack­ett con­clud­ed his pre­sen­ta­tion by quot­ing from one of my posts about I‑976 (!) from late last year, in which I called the I‑976 bal­lot title a blaz­ing dump­ster fire.

UPDATE, 2 PM (Bob­by): It’s the defen­dants’ turn to address the Court. Alan Copsey is pre­sent­ing for the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office. He had bare­ly said any­thing before he got inter­rupt­ed, by Jus­tice Steven Gon­za­lez, who expressed con­cern about the sec­tion of the bal­lot title that pur­ports to exempt vot­er-approved vehi­cle fees from repeal by I‑976. Jus­tice Gon­za­lez repeat­ed­ly asked Copsey to explain how I‑976 cre­ates an exemp­tion to which Copsey replied that the peo­ple can leg­is­late for them­selves and make new law at any point. Gon­za­lez points out that is always the case. Copsey also con­ced­ed that he is unaware of any pri­or vot­er-approved fees not impact­ed by I‑976 – a rather large concession.

UPDATE, 2:06 PM (Andrew): Copsey is game­ly try­ing to mount a defense of I‑976 despite hav­ing pret­ty much noth­ing to work with. I‑976 has so many con­sti­tu­tion­al defects that the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office had to come up with some pret­ty ridicu­lous argu­ments in order to assert that the mea­sure is con­sti­tu­tion­al. The jus­tices seem very skep­ti­cal of Copsey’s arguments.

UPDATE, 2:14 PM (Bob­by): Chief Jus­tice Stephens recalled Copsey’s response to Jus­tice Gonzalez’s ques­tion and asked what would be the case if the excep­tion wasn’t in the title. Copsey points out there could hypo­thet­i­cal­ly be a sub­ject-in-title vio­la­tion. But then Jus­tice Gon­za­lez won­dered if, if the title was word­ed to “include” the repeal of cer­tain vot­er-approved fees, it would be more accurate.

UPDATE, 2:16 PM (Andrew): Jus­tice McCloud just engaged in a back and forth with Copsey about the clar­i­ty of an ear­li­er answer that he gave. At the end of the exchange, she referred back to a state­ment that Copsey made and remarked, “That could be a prob­lem for you.” Copsey may well be think­ing the same thing.

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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4 replies on “Washington State Supreme Court hears oral argument in legal challenge to Eyman’s I‑976”

  1. Maybe the ini­tia­tive could have been writ­ten bet­ter. Now it’s too late to get anoth­er revised ini­tia­tive on the Novem­ber bal­lot. Attor­neys win, peo­ple like me lose.

    Call your city and report every pot­hole and bad road­way. Make them pay. Have the city remove all the graf­fi­ti. Kick the home­less out of the parks. Get a new mayor.

    This com­ment has been edit­ed by NPI for spelling and gram­mar and to com­ply with NPI’s Com­ment­ing Guidelines.

    1. How do you fig­ure that the pot­holes and dete­ri­o­rat­ed roads are going to get fixed with­out fund­ing? Asphalt costs mon­ey. So does con­struc­tion labor. That’s what your vehi­cle fees pay for. Mon­ey does­n’t grow on trees; tax cuts are destruc­tive. They have con­se­quences. And not just to roads, but also to police and human ser­vices that sup­port those who are home­less and have no house to go home to at night.

  2. I976 should have been chal­lenged well before being placed on the bal­lot or vot­ed on. To say that vot­ers were mis­led would be the same as say­ing they were mis­led twice. Once when it passed years ago and slow­ly start­ed creep­ing back by way of shady attach­ments and under the table fees. And now when the pow­ers-to-be thought it would nev­er get passed again it’s an issue because the peo­ple over­whelm­ing­ly vot­ed for it. Wash­ing­ton sim­ply does­n’t bud­get their mon­ey well. They spend a mil­lions upon mil­lions of dol­lars like it grew on trees then go back to the tax­pay­er, using tax­a­tion like a bot­tom­less well. When all the usu­al dirty tricks fail they pull off some­thing out of the ordi­nary like valu­ing vehi­cles dif­fer­ent­ly in one loca­tion, which results in a val­ue far greater than the vehi­cle is worth and tax a per­son at that rate. If any­one has mis­led the tax­pay­er it’s the State of Washington.

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