I-976 Unconstitutional

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The Washington Supreme Court struck down Initiative Measure 976 (I-976) yesterday, October 15, 2020.  I-976 was an initiative, passed by voters, to cap car tab fees at $30 per car.  The Court found the initiative as unconstitutional.

The Court found I-976 violated Article 2, Section 19 of the Washington Constitution.  That section provides that no “bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.”

The title of I-976 was “Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs.”  The initiative, though, did much more than establish a $30 car tab fee.  The initiative also

  1. Repealed motor vehicle and motor home vehicle weight fees;
  2. Repealed retail use taxes on vehicles;
  3. Changed the formula by which vehicles are valued for the purpose of calculating such taxes; and
  4. Required Sound Transit to retire early, annul, or refinance existing bonds funded by previously voter-approved special motor vehicle excise tax funds if permissible under the bond contracts.

While the initiative had several sub-titles, the presence of those sub-titles demonstrated that the Initiative embraced more than one subject.

The Court also found I-976 unconstitutional because the subtitle “Limiting Annual Motor Vehicle License Fees to $30, Except Voter-Approved Charges” misleadingly suggested voter-approved taxes would survive and voters would be able to approve tax increases in the future.  In fact, neither of these things were true.  Under I-976, the previous voter-approved taxes would not survive and the statutes authorizing for voter-approved tax increases would be repealed.

In light of this decision, the car tab fees that have been held by the state pending the Court’s decision, will likely be released.  When that happens, local governments should be able to resume road improvements and other work that rely on those tax revenues.

This discussion is likely not over.  Car tabs will probably be a part of the next legislative cycle.  Contact the Government Strategies attorneys at HLG if you’d like to get involved.