Voters pass I-976, governor pauses new transportation projects, and lawyers prepare to challenge.

Voters have approved Initiative 976. Yesterday, the No on 976 campaign released a statement, that began, 

“At this point in the count, there is a clear gap between yes and no voters. There are about a half million votes left to count, and half of those are in King County, where voters are rejecting I-976. However, we do not believe that advantage will be enough to close the gap. The indication right now is that I-976 will pass.

“I-976 made a simplistic and deceptive claim: that somehow, car tabs could be cut without consequences. At the end of the day, people did not understand the connection between their car tabs and the transportation projects they support, including improved freeways, transit improvements and city-level street maintenance projects. It’s extremely disappointing.”


“Passage of 976 means very difficult decisions for cities across the state and for our State Legislature. Literally dozens of cities and agencies are going to have to cut and delay projects, or find other ways to raise revenue to take care of critical safety needs. Questions are already being raised about lawsuits and King County has announced their intention to challenge the constitutionality of the initiative.

The link takes you to a King County release, which states,

Executive Constantine has asked the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to prepare a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of I-976.

“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. 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,” said Executive Constantine.

The Seattle Times reports

A day after Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which cuts car-tab taxes, details began to emerge about how local leaders will respond.

First up: Lawsuits.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said Wednesday he had asked the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to “prepare a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of I-976.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office called the measure “unconstitutional” and said “the city will pursue litigation to block” it. The city and county did not share details of their legal argument.

Sound Transit Board Chair John Marchione said that agency is likely to sue, too. The strongest legal argument, he believes, will be that the agency’s bond contracts, to borrow money for construction, pledge the car-tab tax income as a source of funds to repay investors.

Meanwhile, Gov. Inslee released a statement on the initiative, saying he’ll pause new transportation projects.

“It is clear that the majority of voters objected to current car tab levels. It is also clear that this vote means there will be adverse impacts on our state transportation system.

“I believe Washingtonians recognize the need to support a safe and reliable transportation system which includes buses, light rail, and ferries and is essential to support our robust economy, ease congestion and fight climate change.

“Accordingly, in response to the will of the people, I am taking immediate action. I have directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to postpone projects not yet underway. I have also asked other state agencies that receive transportation funding, including the Washington State Patrol and Department of Licensing, to defer non-essential spending as we review impacts.”

It takes a while to count votes in our state. And, in the case of I-976, it will take even longer to resolve the legal challenges. Longer still, perhaps, to come to grips with how we fund, maintain, and improve the transportation infrastructure necessary to move people and goods safely and efficiently. 

More coverage at The News Tribune, Kitsap Sun, Everett Herald, and this Seattle Times editorial. From the editorial:

The state’s infrastructure needs aren’t eliminated just because car-tab revenues are cut.