Supreme Court hears I-776 case

06/26/2003

Associated Press
King 5 News


OLYMPIA, Wash. Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman perched eagerly on the edge of his front-row seat in the state Supreme Court chambers on Thursday, as a state attorney defended his latest initiative against charges that it violates the constitution by encompassing more than one subject.

The scene was familiar two of Eyman's previous initiatives have been thrown out in court for that very reason. The state constitution requires that laws tackle only one subject.

But Eyman said he has learned from past mistakes, and he's confident Initiative 776 will survive this legal challenge.

KING
Tim Eyman
"I'm Mr. Single Subject rule," Eyman said after the hour-long court hearing to determine I-776's fate. "Obviously we were extremely careful."

Initiative 776 passed last November with 51 percent of the vote. It was aimed at guaranteeing everyone in the state $30 car tabs thus abolishing some local fees and taxes that make car tabs cost more in several counties. One of those local taxes, in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, helps pay for Sound Transit, the transit agency working toward building light rail in the Seattle area, among other things.

Attorneys representing Sound Transit and King and Pierce counties attacked I-776 for violating the single subject rule, because the sponsors promised in the 2002 voters' guide that voting for $30 car tabs meant they would be "ensuring" a revote on Sound Transit's costly light rail project.

"It was perfectly clear to the voters that this initiative has two purposes, and that violates the single subject rule," Thomas Ahearne, attorney for King and Pierce counties, told the high court, calling the measure a "bait-and-switch" law.

As they often do, many of the justices honed in on a particular question: When is a "subject" really a subject? Their questions centered on the supposition that I-776's language about "ensuring" a revote on Sound Transit is not legally binding. The attorney for the state, which is required to defend all successful initiatives, argued that the language about a Sound Transit revote is not legally binding that it's a consequence of the initiative, not a second subject.

"Where one of these subjects does NOT have legal effect, why would the voters care? Why would the constitution care?" asked Justice Barbara Madsen.

Soon after, Justice Richard Sanders commented, "You're not logrolling when you're just spouting off about the consequences of something."

Madsen also pointed out that Section 11 of the initiative states, "The people expect politicians to keep their promises."

"Is that mandatory?" Madsen wondered, smiling.

Ahearne maintained that the Sound Transit revote is indeed a legally mandatory part of I-776.

"It has two separate subjects," Ahearne said. "The only way you avoid that is to pretend the revote language is not there."

The state Supreme Court usually takes a few months to decide cases. In the meantime, I-776 and its $30 car tabs have been put on hold. The initiative won't take effect unless the high court decides in Eyman's favor.

 

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