Language in the ballot title that appears to exclude voter-approved changes from I-976 are at the heart of today’s decision.

Implementation of I-976 has been put on hold temporarily pending the outcome of the coalition lawsuit in King County Superior Court. In a decision delivered this morning, Judge Marshall Ferguson also indicated that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case.

The ruling details testimony about the damage that would ensue if a temporary injunction were not in place. Metro would need to reduce transit service by 110,000 service hours (at an annualized rate) in March and would not be able to restore that service until September. Metro would permanently lose $2 million in grants tied to the amount of service. The City of Seattle would lose $2.68 million in vehicle license fee just in December if I-976 took effect on December 5. Cuts to the multimodal account would follow shortly, likely including critical programs relied on by special needs transit-dependent taxpayers including one of the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, if I-976 were later upheld, any vehicle fees and excise taxes collected could be refunded at moderate expense. But if a temporary injunction were not granted and I-976 were invalidated, the revenues would be gone forever and the harms would be permanent.

Because of the prospect of irreparable harm, the temporary injunction was generally anticipated. A temporary injunction also requires some reasonable likelihood to prevail at trial, and the language in the order is very encouraging on this point.

Language from the order suggesting I-976 not likely to prevail.

Though the order goes on to caution that no final conclusion has been reached, the highly misleading language in the title, excepting “voter-approved charges”, is likely to be a focus of the litigation going forward.

21 Replies to “I-976 on hold, likely to be overturned”

  1. “Meanwhile, if I-976 were later invalidated, any vehicle fees and excise taxes collected could be refunded at moderate expense. But if a temporary injunction were not granted and I-976 were invalidated, the revenues would be gone forever and the harms would be permanent.”

    In the first sentence, didn’t you mean the situation whereby the initiative was later upheld (not invalidated) and a PI had been granted?

    Overall, this is an encouraging sign.

  2. This is great news. But, the city of Seattle does need to come up with a contingency plan for what to do if I-976 ultimately gets upheld. The combination of losing the car tab revenue and being on the hook for refunding 2020 car tab money already collected and spent is a double whammy. Worst case, the sales tax portion of STBD gets spent on refunding car tabs, zeroing out the entire budget for 2021, causing bus service to roll back all the way to 2014 levels.

      1. On the city level, “planning the budget accordingly” renders the injunction almost meaningless in the short term, as bus service would still have to be cut as if there were no injunction (longer term, SDOT would eventually be able to spend the money should the final ruling go in its favor). At the same time, if they spend the money to maintain service, then they have to have a plan for how to come up with the money for refunds if they have to, in a way to avoids total catastrophe. Worst case, SDOT could be given 30 days in 2023 to issue refunds for car tabs collected over a 3-4 year period, which could be over $100 million.

        I do believe the issue is solvable. In the short term, I believe they have a few months worth of collections in reserves, and could grow the reserves somewhat by delaying future service improvements planned for 2020, without cutting existing bus service. Longer term, if the court fight is still unresolved, it might be prudent to get something on the November 2020 ballot to change the STBD funding source, replacing car tabs with sales taxes and/or Uber/Lyft ride taxes, just to remove the uncertainty and potential refund liability if the final decision ends up going the wrong way. I believe STBD is up for re-authorization soon anyway, and a presidential election year is the time to do it.

        At any rate, the above is certainly much more orderly than a sudden and panicked massive budget cut that would have happened had the injunction not been issued.

  3. Well this crisis is going to come to a quick end.

    Bob Ferguson has said, “I’ve decided to file an emergency appeal of the court’s decision to block I-976 directly to the State Supreme Court. My team will be working over the Thanksgiving weekend to get this done. Our objective is to get the issue before the Supreme Court in time for the initiative to go into effect on December 5th as intended by voters.”


    I am deeply disappointed in any transit advocate who backs Bob Ferguson after tonight. Ferguson has gotta go.

    1. No. He doesn’t have to go. What he has to do, by law, is give this defense his best shot. Can you imagine what the anti-transit crowd would try to do with public opinion if they were able to convince people that the AG was in cahoots with the transit lobby, and intentionally played it so that I-976 would lose?

      I have to believe that if it is truly unconstitutional, then the courts will rule it that way, but Ferguson has to do the best possible job so that the door is shut to anyone who wants to come back and revisit the issue.

      1. I assume Furgeson has a legal obligation to defend every initiative, regardless of how he personally may feel about it. He’s certainly not a Republican. According to the LA Times, he’s sued the Trump administration 50 times, including challenging the initial travel bad in 2017.

        At time same time, I do fault him for allowing the ballot language we saw on Tim Eyman’s I-976. It is very deceptive. Not only does it say nothing about what services get cut, but it also implies that existing voter-approved car tabs would remain, which, if you read the fine print, is not the case. Nor do I find his argument persuasive that if you read the voter’s guide, you can see all the details. A lot of people don’t have time to read the voter’s guide, or may have lost it before their ballot arrives. A person quickly skimming the ballot, who has never heard of Tim Eyman or I-695, would have no idea as to the consequences. This election was decided by 6 points, and I’m sure the percentage of voters who just skim their ballots and don’t read or research any details is well above 6%.

        Putting it all together, I probably be inclined to vote against him over this, if there were a competent Democrat opponent to vote for who had a reasonable shot at winning. But, realistically, it’s not likely, as there just aren’t enough voters who care about this issue, for it to make a dent. At the day, when the inevitable ballot arrives where I have to choose to between Furgeson, a Republican, and a fringe leftist, I will probably end up grudgingly voting for Furgeson because having a Republican as the Attorney General would be much, much worse.

    2. You do realize Seattle District 6 residents received robocalls from Ferguson supporting your candidate Heidi Wills?

      It’s also rare that a state AG refuses to defend an initiative– California made news when the Governor and AG refused to back Prop 8 (which outlawed same sex marriage).

    3. Whether I-976 gets thrown out or not, the state needs to know soon since this has a huge impact on budgets.

      Especially, if it DOES get thrown out, we want it to happen as soon as possible. Otherwise, the government will start making cuts in preparation for the law that might be hard to undo.

      So, I think it’s misplaced to be angry that the AG is putting this before the supreme court. It will end up there anyway, and it would be disruptive to drag the process out.

    1. I don’t know, but the 30-35% of Pierce County voters who voted “no” had to come from somewhere. Mostly likely, a good chunk of them are in Tacoma, but I admit, I haven’t seen the data.

    2. I culled the uncertified voting data for Tacoma on I-976 the other day and this is what I found*:

      Yes 24,471 (52.4%)
      No 22,497 (47.6%)

      *The vote tally may be off a bit due to tiny precincts that the county doesn’t report voting results for to protect voter privacy. For example, on this particular ballot measure, countywide this amounted to a total of 422 votes (347 yes, 75 no) not reported in the precinct totals but included in the countywide tabulation. Additionally, to determine which precincts fall within the city of Tacoma, I used the precincts listed in the two councilmember-at-large voting results. Hopefully this methodology scooped up all of the relevant Tacoma precincts.

  4. “A lot of people don’t have time to read the voter’s guide, or may have lost it before their ballot arrives.”

    If you don’t have the time to read the ballot initiative then 1) don’t vote on it or 2) let duckduckgo be your friend. It’s not that complicated. As a voter, you are responsible for educating yourself on the matters that effect you.

    “At the day, when the inevitable ballot arrives where I have to choose to between Furgeson, a Republican, and a fringe leftist, I will probably end up grudgingly voting for Furgeson because having a Republican as the Attorney General would be much, much worse.”


    1. Our country was built on the idea that 50% plus 1 is enough. If you lose the election you go home and try again next time. The idea in a democracy that majority rule is a form of tyranny is not new. The problem is that now it seems a lot of people don’t think that is fair. Mr. Eyman springs to mind. These people the. scheme and try to manipulate the system and contribute to the degradation of civil discourse. There also seems to be a failure to recognize the social contract that exists between government and the people, and the responsibility that we all have to nurture and sustain a society that, if not perfect for all, is as good as we can make it for as many people In the now, and in the future, as possible.

      Leaving that all aside though the comment that Seattle voters should ‘get what they deserved’, while said mean-spiritedly, is exactly right. I believe that the people of Seattle know who and what they were voting for, and who and what they were not voting for. So, in that sense yes, I hope that Seatle does exactly what the voters expect them to do. If they don’t, then the elected leaders aren’t doing their job.

    2. Seattle voters mostly voted against it. The people that voted for it mostly couldn’t care less what effect it has on Seattle because they don’t live there.

      In any case, I do believe that most voters are responsible enough to read the arguments for and against before voting on a ballot measure, but there are certainly enough voters who aren’t to make the difference in a close election. To say that ballot summary language doesn’t matter because it’s the voter’s responsibility to read the details, is not true. Yes, an individual voter can read the details, but they still have to live with consequences of the election results, which is influenced by voters who did not.

  5. So the judge’s argument is that funding cannot be cut and only increased no matter what people vote for, because some projects have to be canceled?

    This will go to the supreme court, because this way we’ll go bankrupt and there’s no accountability for the failures of the government. Seattle spends billions and has atrocious infrastructure. How do the voters hold them accountable?

    1. No, the judge suggested that the language about voter-approved changes being exempt was deceptive because in actuality it only exempted theoretical voter-approved changes in the future. Existing voter-approved changes would be wiped out.

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