Lawsuit seeks to ensure enforcement of Initiative 776

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau


Washington State - With backing from Tim Eyman, two citizens have filed a lawsuit against Snohomish County and the state Department of Licensing for not enforcing a statewide initiative voters passed last month to limit car-registration fees to $30.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court, targets two taxes. The first is a motor-vehicle-excise tax of $30 per $10,000 of vehicle value that provides Sound Transit with one-fifth of its local revenue for projects such as express buses and light rail. Second is a $15 car-tab fee for road projects.

Snohomish County stopped collecting the $15 tab fee after voters in November approved Initiative 776. Two weeks ago, a judge ordered the Department of Licensing to continue collecting the $15 tax while a legal challenge by King and Pierce counties plays out.

Sound Transit joined the lawsuit after the judge's ruling. The Sound Transit tax still is being collected because the Department of Licensing decided Sound Transit was contractually obligated to collect the money to pay off bonds.

"The voters of Washington state overwhelmingly passed Initiative 776," Eyman, the initiative's sponsor, said at a news conference yesterday in Bellevue. "We've got to go to court to tell the Department of Licensing (it's) not the fourth branch of government."

Citizens Levi Stearns of Mukilteo and Kathy Ogden of Mill Creek are the two plaintiffs in the new lawsuit. Eyman said he found the litigants when he read a story about I-776 in The (Everett) Herald. The newspaper quoted the two residents as being annoyed about the fees when they went to register their cars earlier this month.

"We approached them (about the lawsuit) and they enthusiastically said yes," Eyman said. He criticized the state Attorney General's Office for not "actively defending" the repeal of car-tab fees.

Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel said yesterday that he hadn't seen the full lawsuit but called it a "marketing campaign" by Eyman. "We already stopped collecting the ($15) fee," he said.

The Department of Licensing has had the same position all along, said spokesman Brad Benfield. "If we're ordered by Sound Transit to stop collecting, we'll stop collecting," he said.

Stearns, described as a student and construction worker, wouldn't comment yesterday on the lawsuit but said in a statement last week: "These governments are ignoring this new law. It's illegal and immoral."

Eyman said the suit was not just about the two litigants. "We're defending the citizens of this state," he said.

Eyman's new organization, "Voters Want More Choices," has hired Bellevue attorney Mark Kimball and plans to finance the legal action with donations from supporters.

Eyman said he would have filed the lawsuit himself but "my tabs aren't due until March."


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