Washington State’s Constitution has once again been upheld and a destructive, deceptive Tim Eyman initiative that sought to violate it firmly struck down.
In a decision supported by all nine justices, the Washington State Supreme Court today ruled that Tim Eyman’s I‑976 (which sought to wipe out billions of dollars in funding for multimodal transportation infrastructure across the state) violates Article II, Section 19 of the state’s plan of government. The Court held:
The people of our state have the power to propose and approve legislation. When the people act in their legislative capacity, they are, like any other legislative body, bound by constitutional constraints. Under our constitution, “[n]o bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Initiative Measure 976 contains more than one subject, and its subject is not accurately expressed in its title. Accordingly, it is unconstitutional.
In addition to declaring the initiative unconstitutional, the justices remanded the matter back to King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” (Ferguson had previously ruled that most of the initiative was constitutional while striking down two sections.)
Eight justices signed the lead opinion authored by Justice Steven Gonzalez, who is one of the most formidable legal minds in Washington State… a jurist of exceptional wisdom, integrity, and character. Justice Barbara Madsen filed a concurring opinion agreeing that I‑976 violates the single subject rule of the Constitution, but disagreeing that it violates the subject-in-title requirement.Supreme Court ruling striking down I‑976
As a consequence of the decision, I‑976 will not go into effect. Billions of dollars in funding for roads, buses, ferries, sidewalks, bike lanes, trains, the State Patrol, and projects to improve mobility, including the movement of freight, will be preserved. This is a huge victory for Washington State’s future.
Kudos to the legal team that successfully brought this legal challenge, including David Hackett, David James Eldred, Jenifer C. Merkel, and Erin Baine Jackson of King County (which NPI is proud to call home!), Carolyn Boies, Erica Franklin, and John Benjamin Kerr Schochet of the City of Seattle, and Pacifica Law Group’s team: Matthew Segal, Paul Lawrence, Jessica Anne Skelton, and Shae Blood.
NPI is very proud to be a client of Pacifica Law Group.
Among Pacifica’s other clients is the Washington State Transit Association (WSTA), one of the plaintiffs Pacifica ably represented in this case.
“We are pleased with the Court’s decision to recognize the unconstitutionality of this initiative,” said WSTA Executive Director Justin Leighton in a statement informing the local transit agencies that WSTA serves of the decision.
“Our State Constitution, the bedrock of our laws, outlines firmly how an initiative should be presented to the people for a vote, and I‑976 did not pass that test.”
“Moreover, I‑976 was explicitly designed to undermine the direct funding to public safety on our roads, preservation and maintenance of our bridges, and hitting home to us all, the mobility and access for people with disabilities, seniors, transit-dependent, and essential riders,” Leighton observed. “It was incumbent upon us to ensure the due diligence of bringing this case forward late in 2019, not just for our members but for our riders and communities.”
In addition to the Washington State Transit Association, plaintiffs included King County, the City of Seattle, the Port of Seattle, Garfield County Transportation Authority (the namesake of the case), Intercity Transit, Association of Washington Cities, Amalgamated Transit Union of Washington, and Michael Rogers.
King County and Seattle were represented by their own council, while Pacifica represented the other plaintiffs, including Garfield County Transportation Authority, the named lead plaintiff. (Hurrah for Garfield County, which stood up and fought to save its rural bus and paratransit service!)
King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is a longtime supporter of NPI’s research, also praised the Supreme Court for its well reasoned decision.
“Today’s ruling resoundingly rejects this unconstitutional measure, just as the people of King County rejected it at the polls, and we can now move forward to build a transportation system and economy that gives every person the opportunity to create a better future,” said Constantine.
“I‑976 threatened to reduce or eliminate local and voter-approved funding for public transportation, bridges and roads, and other critical infrastructure and services across our state,” the Executive noted.
“It jeopardized nearly $100 million in funding in King County, including Regional Mobility Grant Program awards that fund RapidRide expansion and reliability improvements, and funding for transit serving persons with disabilities.”
“At King County, we are gratified to be able to continue to work with local jurisdictions, other transit agencies, and partners to fund safe, sustainable, and equitable mobility for all our residents.”
“Transit and mobility investments will be central to our recovery as we rebuild from the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m pleased to have this shadow of uncertainty lifted by the Court.”
“Today is a good day,” agreed Transportation Choices Coalition.
“2020 brings us good news?!!,” TCC’s Keiko Budech tweeted.
“I‑976 was a devastating blow to #WA’s transportation system. Today the State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional! This is a big win! We need more transportation choices to get people where they need to go, not less.”
That’s exactly how we feel.
Freedom of mobility is a matter of freedom. You shouldn’t be forced to drive to get where you want to go. And if you do want to drive to get where you’re going, then you ought to be able to reach your destination safely and without the headaches involved in sitting in bumper to bumper traffic jams.
Transportation Choices Coalition is so named because Washingtonians deserve choices. I‑976’s defeat means that investments in multimodal transportation infrastructure are likely to continue. The pandemic has already taken a toll on other revenue sources. Implementing I‑976 (as Republicans now want to do through legislation) would gut what’s left of the transportation budget.
Governor Jay Inslee knows how unwise and foolish that would be.
Unlike his predecessors Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire, Inslee has shown zero interest in adopting Eyman’s agenda and making it his own merely because Eyman succeeded in running another con against the voters.
In addition, Republicans are out of power in the Legislature and are highly likely to remain out of power in 2021 and 2022, as Democrats appear poised to retain their robust majorities in both chambers, and perhaps even build upon them.
Republicans will be relegated to clamoring for a special session and a vote on an I‑976 do-over bill from the sidelines. Democrats must reject these proposals.
Washingtonians do deserve legislation to improve our state’s tax code. We’d like to see a vehicle fee schedule that is fairer and easier to understand, and so do most legislators we’ve talked to. That’s an achievable reform.
We also sorely need initiative reform.
History repeated itself today when the Supreme Court struck down I‑976. It’s a movie we’ve all seen before, as I‑976 is the latest in a long line of Eyman initiatives to be declared unconstitutional.
The Court would not have needed to protect our Constitution from I‑976, however, if those voters who turned out last autumn had rejected it. And those voters were lied to, by sponsor Tim Eyman and by I‑976 itself.
We need to overhaul how ballot titles (the only language that voters see on their ballots summarizing the measures) are developed and chosen, to eliminate the possibility that voters will see misrepresentations on their ballots in the future.
Had voters not been lied to in 2019, they might have decided I‑976 differently.
We can’t know what would have happened, of course.
But what we do know is what our Constitution says.
Our founders insisted that proposed laws accurately describe their subjects within their titles. They also insisted that proposed laws be limited to a single subject to prevent logrolling. Tim Eyman deliberately ignored these rules in his quest to wreck as much multimodal transportation infrastructure as possible.
Tim has also repeatedly tried to argue that voters weren’t confused.
But that’s an absurd thing for someone who lied to voters to say.
We documented and debunked many of Eyman’s lies about I‑976 at Permanent Defense during the campaign. Despite our efforts to correct the record, those lies received lots of airplay during the runup to the election, and undoubtedly influenced the vote. Here are some of the lies that Eyman told:
- Debunking Tim Eyman’s I‑976 whoppers: There is no multi-billion dollar surplus available to backfill I‑976 cuts
- Debunking Tim Eyman’s I‑976 whoppers: This measure is no “haircut”
- Debunking Tim Eyman’s I‑976 whoppers: Car tabs actually *do* pay for bridges and roads
Perhaps the biggest lie of all was the statement in the ballot title that said voter approved charges would be exempt from the rollback of vehicle fees. There is no such exemption in the initiative, as the Supreme Court noted.
Eyman’s marketing slogan was also a lie. Eyman told Washingtonians they would get “thirty dollar car tabs” if the measure went through. But in reality, the lowest anyone would pay would be $43.25 had the initiative survived legal scrutiny. $43.25 is not thirty bucks. Eyman himself was forced to concede in an interview with The News Tribune of Tacoma that I‑976 doesn’t deliver “$30 tabs”.
Fortunately, the pile of dishonesty and bad policy that is I‑976 is no more. Good riddance to I‑976. After a multi-year effort to vanquish this horrible initiative, we have won. We will remain vigilant and on guard through our Permanent Defense project to protect Washington from more bad ballot measures… but today, we celebrate a great victory for our Constitution and freedom of mobility!