12/27/2019Washington State Ignores Ballot Initiative Lowering Registration Fees
Officials in Washington state work to block voter-passed initiative that would have lowered car registration fees.
The Washington State Department of Licensing is collecting the inflated car registration ("car tab") fees that the voters had just rejected in November. Initiative 976 passed with 53 percent of the vote, limiting state and local licensing fees to $30. Officials upset at the prospect of losing the ability to pay for transit with motorist funds turned to a local judge who was more than willing to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the measure from taking effect.
Earlier this month, a divided state Supreme Court upheld the King County Superior Court judge's decision. Justices Susan Owens, Debra L. Stephens and Sheryl Gordon McCloud disagreed with the majority and insisted the public's will should not be ignored.
"Delaying the effective date of a law enacted by initiative is an extraordinary measure and it is debatable whether the challengers have shown a likelihood of success on their constitutional challenges to the initiative," the dissenting justices wrote. "While the challengers point to significant losses in revenue and service that could result from a stay and the state highlights the cost of any necessary taxpayer refunds, these monetary injuries are not the only ones that matter. Also important is the potential harm to voters' confidence in the initiative system and our democratic process as a whole."
The dissenters pointed out that the ordinary procedure is to presume an initiative is valid until it has been proven unconstitutional through the full court process. In this instance, the initiative was blocked after a judge credited only the arguments presented by Seattle, King County and the Association of Washington Cities.
"Seattle residents have made it clear that we support transit, safer roads, bike and pedestrian safety, and free ORCA for our young people and low-income residents," Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said on filing the lawsuit against the voters.
While state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is nominally defending the $30 car tab initiative, the measure's author, Tim Eyman, says Ferguson is trying to sabotage the case. Eyman pointed out that Ferguson failed to file for a change of venue to take the case out of King County, since King County is a plaintiff.
"There is a cauldron of anger, rage, and fury among the people of the state of Washington," Eyman said. "And rather than respond to it, the reaction by Olympia is to throw gasoline on the fire."
Eyman is urging motorists not to pay any more than the $30 fee set out in the voter-approved law.