19 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: King County’s equity cabinet”

  1. Turns out I-976 had a fatal defect.

    When the AGs office drafted the ballot title it didn’t quite summarize some things correctly. Oops. Context and meaning matter, and those got twisted. I-976 would’ve deep-sixed taxes and fees and only allowed new ones w/voter approval. Go figure . . . the ballot title suggested all existing voter approved charges would continue if voters approved the thing! Of course the courts put a stop to revenues reductions .

    1. I’m baffled by this precedent.

      Can the attorney general’s office intentionally botch all initiative ballot titles so that any initiatives that pass can get thrown out in court?

      Or was this a case of Eyman declining the window of opportunity to challenge the ballot title and get it corrected? I can see the argument that there is onus on the sponsors to ask for ballot title corrections without having to go to court, but I’d like to know more about how that works.

      My recollection is that Eyman submits lots of fake initiatives at virtually no cost to himself, so opponents have to spend lots of time and money challenging his proposed ballot titles, with only him knowing which one(s) will actually be circulated. (I totally wouldn’t mind a higher fee for submitting initiatives, to cover the costs to the Office of the Code Revisor.)

      So, I don’t get how the AG’s office ended up getting to write the ballot title, and botched it so badly.

      1. “So, I don’t get how the AG’s office ended up getting to write the ballot title,…”

        That’s just how the process works in our state and the window to challenge is very tight.

    2. If the title is unacceptable the courts will throw out the initiative. This is the first initiative I’ve seen where I couldn’t tell what it would do in such a fundamental way, and when I looked for answers they were all contradictory. So maybe there will be legal consequences for Ferguson but it may be light if it’s the first time. Or it may be a situation the founders hadn’t anticipated, that the attorney general would be so incompetent or misleading.

      What surprises me is that Ferguson has been trying to Trump-proof Washington and suing on the presidents’ abuses of power, and then he goes and does this which seems like the opposite. Maybe he really feels strongly about low car tabs. Or maybe he really thought the summary was transparent. There’s an argument that this is all about taxes and what the maximum should be, and where the money goes to is irrelevant because they’re only getting it on the legislature’s/people’s suffrage.

      1. Huh? It has noting to do about how Ferguson “feels” about car tabs or anything else. You’re misunderstanding the role of the state AG.

        Ferguson has to defend the initiative in court, it’s not a choice. As the AG of the State of Washington, he has to defend state laws (which include passed initiatives) when challenged in court by cities or citizens. This is basic civics.

        The drafting of the title is a separate issue.

      1. It’s extreme incompetence by Ferguson’s office. But the inaccurate language is drawn from the initiative itself. Section 1, where it lays out the policies and purposes, has the same language “except voter-approved charges”. Later sections where the meat of the initiative is have no such exception.

        Eyman, who passed on the opportunity to challenge the title, is in an awkward place to point fingers at Ferguson, who is pointing out that he only repeated what Eyman had said.

        While it ought to be fatal to the initiative in Court, it hardly gets Ferguson off the hook. Somebody at the AG office should have read the thing before it went to voters. “Who could have known Eyman was given to imprecise language” isn’t much of a defense.

      2. Eyman initially did make a challenge but later withdrew it before Thurston County Superior Court acted on it.

    3. Any person can challenge an initiative’s title and/or summary but only has five working days (from the AG’s filing of said title and summary with the SoS) to do so by filing a petition with the Thurston County Superior Court. IIRC, Eyman did initially make such a challenge but later withdrew it.

      In regard to the constitutionality issue of the matter at hand, this is what the WA State Supreme Court said about the issue in the Pierce County v. State case (I-776), part one:

      “b. The Constitutional Adequacy of the Ballot Title of I-776

      “Having determined that I-776 has only one subject (limiting license tab fees on cars and light trucks), this court must consider the second requirement of article II, section 19 that the subject be expressed in the ballot title. Wash. Fed’n, 127 Wash. 2d at 555, 901 P.2d 1028. To be constitutionally adequate, “the title need not be an index to the contents, nor must it provide details of the measure.” Amalgamated, 142 Wash. 2d at 217, 11 P.3d 762. It satisfies the constitutional requirement “if it gives notice that would lead to an inquiry into the body of the act, or indicate to an inquiring mind the scope and purpose of the law.” YMCA v. State, 62 Wash. 2d 504, 506, 383 P.2d 497 (1963). As with the single-subject requirement, the subject-in-title requirement of article II, section 19 “is to be liberally construed in favor of the legislation.” Wash. Fed’n, 127 Wash. 2d at 555, 901 P.2d 1028.

      “By statute, the ballot title for an initiative to the people has three parts: “(a) A statement of the subject of the measure; (b) a concise description of the measure; and (c) a question in the form prescribed in this section for the ballot measure in question.” RCW 29.79.035(1). The statute further requires that the ballot title “substantially” follow a prescribed format: “`Initiative Measure No …. concerns (statement of subject). This measure would (concise description). Should this measure be enacted into law?'” Id. at (2). Moreover, the statute puts a 10-word limit on the “statement of the subject” and a 30-word limit on the 1437 “concise description.” Id. at (1). Consistent with the statute, the ballot title of I-776 expresses the subject in its first sentence: “Initiative Measure No. 776 concerns state and local government charges on motor vehicles.” CP at 18 (emphasis added). The second sentence tells what the measure would do: “This measure would require license tab fees to be $30 per year for motor vehicles, including light trucks. Certain local-option vehicle excise taxes and fees used for roads and transit would be repealed.” Id. (emphasis added).

      “We see no constitutional defect in this ballot title. Because we have determined that policy language does not yield additional “subjects” for article II, section 19 analysis, the ballot title was not obliged to address the drafters’ desire for a revote on changes to Sound Transit’s light rail project. Nor was the ballot title required to mention the detail that I-776 would not repeal RCW 46.01.140(4)(a) and (e), which imposed fees totaling $3.50 for license tab applications processed by agents. The ballot title, which used 38 words of the 40 permitted by statute, was sufficiently detailed to prompt an inquiring mind to read the initiative for further details.

      “In sum, Pierce County has not met its burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that I-776’s ballot title failed “to notify members of the Legislature and the public of the subject matter of the measure.” Amalgamated, 142 Wash. 2d at 207, 11 P.3d 762.”

      In regard to the petitioners’ challenge about the “misleading” nature of the ballot title, this is what the state, i.e., the AG, argued in its motion in opposition of the plaintiff’s PI request:

      “Nor is the ballot title misleading or false. Plaintiffs claim that the title misled voters into thinking that any “voter-approved charges in excess of $30 would be retained, or that at least voters would retain the authority to approve such vehicle charges.” PI Mot. at 24. But that is not what the title said. The title first clearly informs voters that the measure would broadly “repeal,
      reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees,” without mentioning or
      exempting voter-approved charges. In a separate clause, the title then explains that one specific
      type of vehicle fee, “annual motor-vehicle-license fees,” would be limited “to $30, except voter-
      approved charges.” The title thus did not say that all existing vehicle taxes and fees above $30 would continue if voter approved, nor that voters in the future could broadly increase vehicle
      taxes or fees beyond $30; both the limit and the voter-approval option are specific to the fee mentioned in that clause, “motor-vehicle-license fees.” Although space limitations did not permit the ballot title to detail how a “motor-vehicle-license fee” is defined, or how and when this
      exception for “voter-approved charges” might arise, it was sufficient to give notice that would lead to an inquiry into the text of the initiative. See Pierce Cty. I, 150 Wn.2d at 436-37 (noting that state law imposes a “10-word limit on the ‘statement of the subject,’ and a 30-word limit on
      the ‘concise description,’” in concluding that a ballot title “was sufficiently detailed to prompt an inquiring mind to read the initiative for further details” (quoting RCW 29.79.035(1)).

      “Plaintiffs specifically complain that the title references “voter-approved charges,” while the initiative defines those charges as ones “approved by voters after the effective date of this
      section.” But the title need not (and could not have, given space constraints) detail exactly which
      “voter-approved charges” would be exempted, so long as it alerts voters of a topic as to which they could look to the text of the initiative if they wished to know more. See, e.g., Pierce Cty. I, 150 Wn.2d at 436 (a title is sufficient “‘if it gives notice that would lead to an inquiry into the
      body of the act’”) (quoting YMCA v. State, 62 Wn.2d at 506). Here, Section 2 of I-976 amends chapter 46.17 RCW to provide that “motor-vehicle-license fees” are limited to $30, except voter-approved charges. See I-976 § 2. Section 2 further defines “motor vehicle license fees” as “general license tab fees paid annually for licensing motor vehicles,” which specifically “do not
      include charges approved by voters after the effective date of this section.” I-976 § 2. Thus, while
      the ballot title does not describe the temporal limitations of voter approved changes, Section 2 clearly does. And the ballot title clearly informs voters that I-976 would “repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees,” regardless of whether they were voter-approved or otherwise imposed, which would reasonably prompt a voter to “read the
      initiative for further details.” See Pierce Cty. I, 150 Wn.2d at 436-37.

      “Plaintiffs claim that it was misleading for Sections 1 and 2 of the Initiative, and, as a result, the ballot title, to inform voters that the $30 cap was subject to “voter-approved” increases, when, at the same time, Section 6 repealed the authority for TBDs to levy voter-approved vehicle
      fees. See PI Mot. at 24 (referring to Section 6’s repeal of RCW 82.80.140, which refers to RCW
      36.73.067(6)). But Plaintiffs incorrectly conflate the TBD vehicle fees authorized in RCW 82.80.140 with the motor-vehicle-license fees imposed in RCW 46.17.350 and .355. By its own language, RCW 82.80.140 distinguishes the TBD “vehicle fees” authorized in that section from
      the “vehicle license fees” authorized under RCW 46.17.350 and .355. RCW 82.80.140 (authorizing the imposition of an “annual vehicle fee” to be imposed on vehicles “subject to
      vehicle license fees”). Similarly, RCW 46.04.671, which defines “vehicle license fees” for purposes of Title 46, makes clear that the term “does not include . . . taxes and fees collected by the department [of licensing] for other jurisdictions,” such as TBDs. In short, although motor-vehicle-license fees under chapter 46.17 RCW and TBD vehicle fees approved under RCW 82.80.140 are collected together, they are two separate fees. Notifying voters, as the ballot title
      did, that the measure limited “motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges,” was not misleading or false given that TBD fees are separate and would not be subject to the voter-approval exception.”

      Given the constraints placed on initiative titles and summaries, I believe there is merit to the AG’s argument here. Ultimately we will just need to wait to see what the state’s highest court decides.

      1. I agree, Tlsgwm. The AG’s office is playing it straight, defending the legislation to the best of its ability.

        I am a bit amazed, though, that nobody has raised the fundamentally different nature of an Initiative which repeals and replaces ordinary legislation and that which (attempts) to manage a State agency directly. That seems a fundamental violation of the Separation of Powers. The Legislature can’t order a State agency to violate a contract, and no Initiative should be able to do so either.

        But this does in the insistence that bonds be , even though it claims not to do so by insisting that existing bonds which protect the tab revenues “be defeased if possible”.

        It’s always “possible” to defease bonds, but that would certainly mean that the holders are damaged, because any replacements would not have the surety of the tab fees backing them. So the Initiative seems to me to demand the forceful breaking of a contract.

        I’m hoping the Supreme Court sees it that way, too, because I think you’re right that the “technical” challenges fail to convince.

      2. @Tom Terrific
        Thank you for your reply, but I have to respectfully disagree with a few of your assertions.

        “I am a bit amazed, though, that nobody has raised the fundamentally different nature of an Initiative which repeals and replaces ordinary legislation and that which (attempts) to manage a State agency directly. That seems a fundamental violation of the Separation of Powers.”

        First off, a passed initiative has the same force of law as any statute passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. With that said, I don’t really understand your “separation of powers” argument; the structure here in our state is essentially the same as it is in the other Washington (with the biggest exception being our Governor’s veto powers). There are all kinds of ways that legislation passed in Olympia dictates executive departmental policies, processes and spending. The Washington State Supreme Court has affirmed such provisos many times, even within appropriations bills so long as such provisos don’t constitute substantive new law. As far as initiatives are concerned, we only have to look back to 2011’s I-1183 (liquor sales privatization) that made wholesale changes to the way our state’s Liquor Control Board operates.

        “The Legislature can’t order a State agency to violate a contract, and no Initiative should be able to do so either.”

        Yes, that would clearly be a violation of our state constitution. That was addressed explicitly in the Pierce County v. State case. The question that will arise with respect to I-976 is whether section 12 runs into the same constitutional issue as I-776. We shall see how our highest court rules on this (as well as the related amended section of RCW 81.104.160, the .2% MVET provision, stipulated in the initiative’s section 13) in the coming months.

        “It’s always “possible” to defease bonds, but that would certainly mean that the holders are damaged, because any replacements would not have the surety of the tab fees backing them.”

        First off, it’s only possible to defease issued bonds if said bonds contain a defeasement provision. Of course, with that said, it is very common for municipal type bonds to have such provisions. However, there would be no “damage to holders” of said bonds should the issuer decide to pursue their defeasement. The Treasury-security backed portfolio used for the defeasement would continue to make the required scheduled payments from the escrow account. Additionally, the holders can still trade their held issues on the secondary market just as they could prior to defeasement. (Some muni bond experts would even argue that the defeased bonds are even backed by greater security.) It is a total misunderstanding to equate a bond issue defeasement with an early redemption.

  2. Congratulations to Metro for putting together this committee! There are many nuanced issues about equity that require trade-offs — and it takes a committee to do this work.

    I am struck by the lack of performance measures discussions in the video. It’s possible to organize a “feel-good” committee and keep them from having constructive input. More specificity about the committee’s work is needed in the video.

    1. I will contrast this committee with the utter lack of an equity committee in the Ballard-West Seattle ST work. There is only a stakeholder committee and their membership is dominated by business and adjacent property interests. Then, ST staff defines equity issues how they want and force their own opinions on the stakeholders. The measures are about things like the residential populations around the stations rather than access issues within each station, or access to Jon-residential destinations that are more important to disadvantaged populations (like Harborview). It also creates alternatives that make using Link more difficult in the future by not designing transfers well — especially when Link riders between North Seattle and South Seattle will have to walk linger distances and go up or down multiple levels in the current designs being studied. Link service between UW and Rainier Beach will be worse than what exists today and it seems like no one at ST cares.

      There is a strong correlation between a Riders Committee and an Equity Committee. Such a committee to review all of the Ballard-West Seattle planning is needed now, rather than in 2027 when the big decisions affecting equity are already made and the only options at the table are minor design tweaks.

    2. A riders’ committee is certainly necessary. Riders are being treated as one stakeholder total and the least important one. The purpose of transit is to optimize mobility, and that means improving the riders’ experience, so the impacts on riders should be paramount. ST should set a minimum guaranteed standard that train-to-train transfers will be short and easy, and not require going up to the surface and down the other side. That should have disqualified the deep Intl Dist options and side platforms right there. We still don’t know what transfers at Intl Dist and Westlake will be like, much less how transfers at U-District to the 45th line ST has already studied will be like. Not to mention Bellevue Transit Center.

      1. Man I’d love to see this Equity Cabinet stick their nose into the West Seattle-Ballard planning! A group like this needs to speak up about Link rider issues.

  3. Tim Eyman’s initiatives gain him attention, which he focuses with laser-like energy to accomplish his purposes. Worked for him twenty years ago when the Supreme Court handed us his head on a plate. Wish he was our National politics’ most dangerous example.

    Might be best for our side just to do whatever we have to while energetically forgetting that Tim exists. The Equity Cabinet looks positive and promising, though I think the concept needs a little more thorough introduction. Would also be helpful to list what the ten guiding principles are. Looks like they’re all pointed in the right directions, though.

    Mark Dublin

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