Initiative 976, or the Limits on Motor Vehicle Taxes and Fees Measure (the $30 car tabs initiative) was approved by Washington voters during the state’s general election in November of 2019. The initiative was opposed by state Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, due to the $4 billion hole it would leave in the state transportation budget.
Following the passage of I-976, King County Metro released a map detailing 170,000 bus service hours in reductions across the Seattle area and Inslee announced that all statewide construction projects not yet underway would be put on hold.
This is particularly bad news for residents in areas like east Pasco, where the $13.8 million replacement of the 90-year-old Lewis Street Tunnel has been delayed—Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell describes the tunnel as an “unsafe, dilapidated and functionally obsolete railroad underpass…the concrete safety railings are literally crumbling. The rebar is poking out all over the facility. And periodic closures are necessary to clean the roadway because concrete falls into the roadway.”
The project to replace Lewis Street Tunnel with an overpass has been in the works for years, and was only a month away from going out to bid for a contractor before the passage of the initiative.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan previously said that if fully implemented, I-976 would disrupt her program to provide free bus access for students and low-income residents. Seattle had expected to receive about $33 million from car-tab fees this year, and about 12,000 high school students and 1,500 public housing residents receive free transit passes from those funds.
In December, a coalition including King County and the City of Seattle filed an injunction claiming the initiative is unconstitutional, citing “substantial concerns” that the initiative’s description on the ballot was misleading. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the injunction, temporarily blocking I-976 from taking effect on December 5 as planned.
Another lawsuit from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office described the initiative as “a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution, including the single-subject rule.”
The single-subject rule prevents bills from containing more than one subject and mandates that subject should be expressed in the title. “By violating the prohibition on single subject, the initiative improperly attempted to win support by hiding unpopular provisions among more popular ones, without clearly spelling out what some of those provisions were,” a statement on behalf of the governments and agencies involved in the lawsuit reads.
However, a new plan introduced by Washington House Republicans intends to create a pathway to implement $30 car tabs statewide. Bill 2227 establishes $30 car tabs and limits state and local taxes, fees and other vehicle-related charges.
“Washingtonians have spoken on car tabs and it’s the job of the Legislature and governor to respond,” said Rep. Andrew Barkis, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “We need to put policy over politics. This means implementing 30-dollar car tabs, establishing a permanent account for preservation and maintenance and setting priorities at WSDOT. We have put solutions on the table that would respect the will of the voters and meet future transportation needs.”
Photo: PST Station under construction on Mercer Island- Jamling Sherpa/The Watchdog