The Washington State Supreme Court found voter Initiative 976 (I-976) unconstitutional today, noting, “(I-976) contains more than one subject, and its subject is not accurately expressed in its title.” The City of Seattle joined with King County, Garfield County Transportation Authority, and a coalition of people, organizations and governments to challenge the legality of the proposal. 76 percent of Seattle voters rejected I-976 when it appeared on ballots in November 2019.
“We knew this initiative had some fairly obvious legal problems from the outset. Mr. Eyman has never sponsored an initiative that’s withstood legal challenge, so today’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The court rightly recognized that a clearly inaccurate initiative title and logrolling subjects is unlawful.” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “We had committed legal partners throughout this effort, and I’d like to thank Assistant City Attorneys Carolyn Boies and Erica Franklin for their endless hours and creative thinking.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan said, “Justice for Seattle voters prevailed. Today the court upheld Seattle voters commitment to better and more equitable transportation systems. Even before the pandemic and economic crisis, Mr. Eyman’s illegal and misleading initiative decimated Seattle’s transportation budget and required cuts that hurt our residents and businesses. To make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, and to build back stronger and more equitable, we need a transportation system that serves all of our residents. This is why we’ve focused on using all the tools at our disposal to expand transit opportunities, especially for our low income residents and communities of color. Vehicle license fees are a key tool that funds transit and key safety and maintenance projects including our pothole budget. With the Seattle Department of Transportation facing significant budget challenges in the current economic landscape, this decision will help our City with needed resources to keep our residents and workers moving as we recover from the pandemic.”
“I’m thrilled our State Supreme Court overturned I-976 to cancel this threat to our transportation networks and validate Seattle voters who strongly rejected that harmful measure,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who chairs the City Council’s Transportation Committee. “This positive ruling preserves these vital transportation resources and renews Seattle’s flexibility to fix more pot holes, reduce traffic congestion, and even increase bridge maintenance to benefit all modes of travel.”
Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe said, “Seattle was the fastest growing city of the last decade. With that has come many challenges and opportunities on our path to building a more livable, inclusive, and accessible city. A robust and reliable public transportation system available to all is foundational to that vision of a thriving, growing Seattle, and we still have a long ways to go. The passage of I-976 was a dangerous derailment to our shared efforts to create a more equitable transportation system. Cruelly, it arrived as a global pandemic set in and placed further out of reach essential transit services when those traveling to reach front-line jobs, school, and other essential services needed it most. Today’s decision to overturn I-976 is an incredible victory for the 76 percent of Seattle voters who rejected this initiative last November, and for everyone who wishes to build a more inclusive city focused on correcting our historic shortcomings. This sustains the local resources needed to investment in asset maintenance and leaves local funding options in place that allows Seattle voters to choose how they want to invest in our vital transportation and transit system.”
Upon establishing the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, a $20 annual vehicle license fee was implemented and enacted in May 2011 to fund transportation improvements for Seattle residents. Seattle voters approved a measure in the November 2014 election to expand Metro transit service in the city to be financed by a $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% increase in sales tax. The measure expires in December 2020.