Eyman suing to enforce I-776 - He calls some governments' response to initiative a 'mockery of justice'



Seattle, WA - Charging that the state government is breaking the law, anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman and supporters are suing to enforce an initiative passed by voters last month to limit auto-registration fees to a flat $30 a year.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court, attacks two taxes levied annually on motor-vehicle licenses.

One collects 0.3 percent of a vehicle's value each year in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, raising about $50 million annually. That provides about one-fifth of the budget for Sound Transit, the agency that operates express bus service and the Sounder commuter line and is trying to build a light rail system in King County.

While Initiative 776 repealed the tax when the measure became law Dec. 5, the state has continued to collect it, with Sound Transit officials saying they believe the initiative will be tossed out in court as unconstitutional.

The other tax is a $15-a-year surcharge on vehicle registrations. It was collected in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Douglas counties until Initiative 776 passed last month. Douglas and Snohomish counties stopped collecting the surcharge. King and Pierce counties challenged the initiative in court and won a judge's permission to keep collecting the fees while the issue is litigated.

"Politicians and bureaucrats are making a mockery of justice by conspiring to ensure the voters don't get the policies they approved on Election Day," Eyman said in an e-mail sent to news organizations yesterday. "This situation should offend not just the majority of voters who approved I-776, but all citizens."

The e-mail quoted plaintiff Levi Stears, described as a Mukilteo student and construction worker, as saying: "These governments are ignoring the law. It's illegal and immoral."

Eyman called a news conference for this morning to detail the lawsuit. He refused yesterday to elaborate.

"We have nothing to add to the statement we've already put out," he said.

The defendants in the suit are the state Department of Licensing and Snohomish County. They are to be served legal papers notifying them of the suit today.

Snohomish drivers no longer have to pay the $15 surcharge, because county officials decided to stop collecting the fee. But the county ordinance authorizing the tax remains on the books. Snohomish drivers continue to pay the 0.3 percent surcharge, which translates into $60 a year for a $20,000 vehicle.

Eyman's statement did not say how much the $15 surcharge brought in before its collection was halted in Snohomish County. In King and Pierce counties, it would raise at least $115 million over the next six years if it continues to be collected. That money would pay for road repairs, buses and other transportation improvements.

I-776 passed statewide by a margin of 51.5 percent. It repealed a state law that allows counties to adopt the $15 surcharge. It also overturned a second state law allowing the collection of the taxes that provide one-fifth of Sound Transit's budget. Both of the state laws that were rejected by the voters had been passed by the state Legislature.

In King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, which along with Douglas were the only ones affected by the initiative, the measure was rejected by a margin of 56.6 percent. Local government officials argue that voters elsewhere in the state should not be allowed to overrule voters in the three-county area who agreed to continue being taxed for transportation improvements.

"It's clear to us that the people who live in the (Sound Transit) district, and who are the only ones paying for Sound Transit, favor completing light rail," environmental and labor groups wrote in a letter urging Sound Transit to challenge the initiative in court.

In a suit in King County Superior Court -- separate from the lawsuit the Eyman forces filed last week in Snohomish -- I-776 is under attack by King County, Pierce County and Tacoma.

That suit, which Sound Transit joined last week along with the environmental and labor groups, says I-776 is illegal because:

It cuts off funding from the $15 surcharges that King County was counting on for a six-year bonding program to support local transportation improvements. One of three bond issues envisioned for the six-year program was sold about a month before the I-776 vote. King County could use other revenues to pay the bonds, though, Eyman contends.

Contained more than one question for voters to decide, violating a provision in the state constitution that initiatives address only one subject. Eyman says the subject was clear: $30 car registrations for everyone in the state, even if they live in King, Pierce or Snohomish.

Improperly used a statewide initiative to overturn local taxes. Eyman counters that the initiative overturned two state laws that allowed the local taxes.

Sound Transit says that if it is no longer allowed to collect the 0.3 percent vehicle tax, it will have to rely on sales taxes to fund its operations. That would trigger a small increase in interest rates for the money it borrows, increasing its costs by about $23 million over the next 30 years.

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@seattlepi.com


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