Washington State Supreme Court rules against initiative to reduce car-tab taxes

The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Initiative 976 to reduce car-tab taxes, nearly a year after statewide voters approved the tax-cutting measure, our online news partner The Seattle Times reported.

The initiative’s ballot title was “deceptive and misleading” by promising to lower car-tab taxes “except voter-approved charges” while also rolling back taxes voters had previously approved, the court found.

The decision means state and local car-tab taxes can remain at their current levels. State and local governments — including the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace — use car-tab fees to fund road and transit projects.

You can read more in The Times story here.

34 Replies to “Washington State Supreme Court rules against initiative to reduce car-tab taxes”

  1. This is a difficult loss. I don’t know the particulars of the case, but sometimes the decision scope is curtailed so that Initiate 976 has to be evaluated by itself, and not in the context of the original Car Tab Ballot Initiative which we all seem to agree was deceptive. WA State House committed fraud by every objective definition, but maybe that wasn’t on the table.

    The ballot initiate process should be repealed altogether. I’ve spoken to Tim Eyman about a Ballot Initiative to repeal the 1911 Amendment to the WA State Constitution. Elect a legislature to create laws.

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    1. For generations, the initiative process in Washington was limited to volunteer petition campaigns. It was unlawful to pay people to gather signatures. Our founding fathers would be appalled at the crass commercialism that has overtaken the petitioning process, that a person could make a well-paid career out of annual petition campaigns. I don’t favor repeal of the initiative and referendum features of our state Constitution, but I’d certainly explore and look for reform ideas.

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  2. Let me see if I understand this idea. We want Tim Eyman to run an initiative to end initiatives? Since the Initiative is Eyman’s public relations claim to fame and apparent reason for living and making a living, why would he want to do this? Not sure this isn’t a good idea; but good luck with it at so many levels.

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  3. I believe this is the third time our State Supreme Court has overturned the will of the voters on this issue. Judicial elections have consequences. Court claims the Initiative to lower tab fees was confusing to voters. I doubt it. The original Car Tab Ballot was deceptive and done so to raise more than $60 BILLION dollars of taxpayer money to pay for the Sound Transit choo choo train. No one told the voters then their car tab fees would be based on artificially high valuation of their vehicles. Bait and switch.

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    1. Mark, well put. The who point of I976 was because the Original Initiative and the mechanics behind it was a lie. I bet your argument wasn’t even heard.

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  4. OR…

    You can help, fix, the initiative process

    Pros and Cons of the Initiative Process were discussed this week during the Fix Democracy First! – Happy Hour

    One of the ideas mentioned is to work with a knowledgeable group in the preparation of the initiative

    Fix Democracy First! is a non-partisan organization

    You can learn more and watch the video and get the links at:

    https://www.fixdemocracyfirst.org/events/democracy-happy-hour-october-14-2020

    and

    https://www.facebook.com/fixdemocracyfirst.org/

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  5. Well said, Mark! Our do-little legislature cannot shun their responsibility any longer. They need to expeditiously fix this injustice to vehicle owners. The legislature and governor have been in bed with sound shysters for much too long. Governor Inslee has been saying since the court’s decision that the money is needed, but no recognition that the payers of license plate tabs have been over-paying for years.

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  6. Tim Eyman is a very shady guy with a heavy proclivity for dishonesty. It is certainly not surprising that one of his many dishonest initiatives would be declared unconstitutional.

    There are certainly a lot of areas for improvement on the issue of car tabs, and I hope that we will get someone who is a whole lot more serious and honest to work on a way to fix it.

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  7. Ron is very wise and 100% correct. Olympia has a job to do.

    Ballot Initiatives became a thing in the 1910-1920’s. It was a Capital-D democracy movement and hasn’t ever worked. We are a republic, a Jefersonian Democracy, not a True Democracy. Prop 8 passed in California of all places. Gay marriage should be illegal there if we believe in the “voice of the people”. Capital-d Democracy is a tragedy of the commons. Elect people you trust to create laws. It takes more than reading a paragraph in a voters pamphlet to understand a complex and nuanced subject. Someone, as a full time job, needs to do that. Elect someone else when you feel like they arent working in your interest.

    I hate the car tabs, Tim Eyman is a nice-enough guy, but Ron is right – this Olympias job to un-$&@# this situation.

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  8. The legislature when adopting the car evaluation table could have used a Kelly Blue Book type plan and raised the same amount of money the did by simply make the rate greater than what was used. But some in the legislature wanted to use the evaluation table they used because it did shift tax burden to folks who were buying new cars and who had newer cars. The depreciation schedule use was based on an inflated value and it kept that inflated value in place of a couple of years and then the decline did not match real values. This was a “cleaver” way to put more tax burden on those who bought new cars and who owned late model cars.

    I-976 did not tell the truth about the impact of the initiative, and was confusing about what would really happen. It is difficult to understand the logic what hurdles an initiative must jump over and standard legislation by our elected does not have the same hurdles.

    So what has the public really said. 1. Fix the value tables? 2. Roll back transit funding. 3. Reduce the power of local govts to assess the transportation benefit tax? The legislature of today is not inclined to craft anything new as a result of trying to assess what the “people have said” As a result the people do need a meaningful way to input to the decision making of our govt. The likelihood of doing it on a state wide basis is near zero.

    Let’s start locally. We could if we want create a model of input for our council and mayor that helps the will of the people to be assessed and then acted upon. Problem is we simply do little to work together.

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    1. Darrol:
      I believe that your analysis of why the tax for license plate tabs was structured the way it is to be precisely correct. Can you more fully explain what you’re proposing in your last paragraph.

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    2. Darrol, I-976 was not ambiguous. $30 was very clear. The impacts were well under stood by everyone who voted for it: Sound Transit would need to steal money from somewhere else. God aparently forbids money from bus and train tickets being used to pay for buses and trains.

      It’s a huge insult to the electorate to say they were smart enough to vote for car tab fees, but not smart enough to change their minds after they discovered it was a scam.

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      1. Matt, I hope you are wearing gloves when you type comments like this. I have a hard time understanding the idea that voter approved taxes will not be impacted but indeed they were. ST was voter approved?

        A better title may have been “roll back of ST” I did not know for example that we were going to loose the ability locally to fund transportation projects but that was in there too.

        Govt is always in the subsidy business. Often with the full support of the taxpayers. Library services are a good example. Edmonds taxpayers support other areas of SnoIsle.

        Some might say I love public transit and support a subsidy to get the folks who can use it off the roads so I can get around easier. Look at the convoluted ways we subsidize the fairy system. Boats are and “extension” of the the road system, so paid for in ways other than farebox. Occasional users subsidize frequent users. Our summer guests pay big time to subsidize the folks who live here.

        Yes it is an insult that the elected cannot account for a change of people’s view of should we have public transportation and if yes how should we pay for it?

        When we wondered down the path for nuclear plants in Washington that decision got changed and that payment model got all hosed up.

        We subsidize a bunch of things the real question is should we all sit down, figure out what we want from Good Govt and then also figure out how we want to pay for it? Yes, and subsidies will be involved but the people should help make those decisions. Other things will come to the table in the future and we can all vent about it or do something now.

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  9. Good Govt is an open govt. Good Govt is build on some basic principles for each of its decisions. For any give issue we need to first decide “what is the problem we are trying to solve”. Take for example parking. A number of citizens, council members, business reps, staff, and law enforcement looked at the issues, (there are many, but their are solutions too). That group did some study work on the factors that impact the availability of parking. The initial recommendation involved the famous tick marks, moving employee parking further from DT, and more enforcement. Council acted on the recommendations and we saw improvement. The “Parking Survey” was very helpful and generated 705 responses! The information was very useful to help design the next step to work on solutions to improve DT parking. Council rejected the plan and in doing so even made up data about the cost of gathering the needed data to make data driven decisions. So what started as a good idea to gather inputs from all of us and then act on the common thinking our our citizens is now stalled.

    The secret of improving DT parking was rooted in more public input and better data on which we could craft some improvements. We can find ways to define the problems we are trying o solve, gather more public input, and then sort out the direction we want to go. This can be done for almost any issue we face today. The trick is how do we get citizens to collective engage on issues. We did that with the Connector but here we sit and no one seems to care we do not have any idea of how to deal with a WF emergency. Citizens are good at Stopping things. Why not start things?

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  10. Ron, one of the most critical elements of govt is for the people to participate in how we spend our money. We never will have enough to do all the things folks would like. So we need to develop a public process, not just the staff and council but a public process to help prioritize how we spend our money. When we did the Strategic Action Plan we had input for more that 2500 people! There were a number of financial issues in the SAP that our elected simply have not even started or had public discussion about. Permanent funding for roads and new methods of funding parks got lots of support. A citizens group did meet to outline ways to fund parks but it did not see the light of day when the citizens wanted to do it in a “revenue neutral way”. We have all seen the data that says we need about $2m/yr to do the catch up on protecting roads but staff and council will not fund it! We have deferred building maintenance to the tune of if I recall correctly $5+m and a need for over $500k per yr to not get behind in the future. Still no funding. As citizens we should urge council to stop holding study sessions at their retreat for Budgeting By Priorities and just simply start the process! Citizen input plays a major role in BBP. Govt can do better but only if it’s citizens ask for it in a way that we are building it a piece at a time.

    We could start by listing some of the problems we are trying to solve and the pick one or two and flush out the alternatives and then get the data to help make a good decision.

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  11. The purpose of good government, under our system, at any level should be to provide for the common good and protection of all. (At least that is what we espouse in the Gov.t, of, by and for the people) model in our declaration of independence. This requires that we really believe this, first (apparently some people still believe we should have had a monarchy or strong man type government of some sort) and, second, that we are willing to tax ourselves as an independent body to pay for all the things we need in common and for our protection. The questions are: What are the needs we have in common? How do we assess who should pay for these needs and how much should they be forced to pay and on what basis? What political bodies do we create to figure all this out? Pretty complex and complicated; especially when you factor in Federal, State, County and Municipal government entities “needs” having to be considered as part of the whole tax equation. Add into this whole mess the election of people who don’t believe in government or demand totally minimal government at most, and the very real problems become almost unsolvable by the electorate wanting and needing to be governed. Unless the masses get and stay involved in the process, governance will revert to strong man rule at all levels. That is generally why liberal Democracies have tended to fail. Are we next?

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    1. Our government is a government for individuals, not a government for the common good. The US Government(s) is the first designed to protect individuals from the “commons”. Read the Declaration of Independence. What’s the first thing it says in the second paragraph? What *common* rights are listed in the Bill of Rights?

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      1. Not sure but my guess is the founder would not have a problem if we developed a common water system or a common sewer system.

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        1. No Darrol, you are wrong. If you just put your mind to it you can build your own sewer and water treatment plant with your own determination and ingenuity. If you weren’t such a lazy no good; always playing around with facts and figures, you’d have it done already. Guess the city will just have to complete that new facility after all. Hey, if we can’t have a little fun here, what’s the point?

          I do agree with Matt that we don’t want to go overboard with this common good stuff. I’d just as soon the government doesn’t try to make Chevy’s or make me get a permit to cut down a tree. Peace and love to both you guys (yes In my youth I drove a damn hippie van). You are good folks and fun to banter with. You’ve both helped me not be quite such a flaming liberal; but there is still a lot of smoke and glowing embers for you to work on.

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      2. It doesn’t say government of the individual, by the individual and for the individual. If it isn’t grounded in the good of all and the needs of all “the people” but only the freedom of “the individual”, then you don’t need any government, in theory anyway.

        The “individual” could not fight the British. Only the common need of the people in a common cause could do that. The individual could not fight the so called “Indians.” People had to band together as a force or they would have been killed and driven off the “Indian” lands they were expropriating. The individual couldn’t build a fort around his farm and fight off the “savages” alone, he had to from a collective compound with other individuals as a fort and a village to fight the good fight. Hence a primitive form of government for the perceived “common good” was formed.

        The founders (founding fathers, if you want to use the sexist term) couldn’t even agree on what the government of the people should look like. We have a President because Washington refused to be a King for life. Presidents were originally elected by legislatures with no direct popular vote. The electoral college was based on the concept that the individual could not and should not be trusted with the power to choose the leader directly. God forbid any non land holding party, black man, red man or female had anything to say about who the leaders would or should be.

        The never ending question is how much should or shouldn’t be done for the “common good.” The term “we the people” infers that there is some interest in common; otherwise the document was a meaningless rant to justify a rebellion (British take on the matter).

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  12. We are not likely to fail but we will have to learn how to adjust. Common good and protection for all needs some agreement on what is contained in each. I would guess that would be difficult to gain agreement.

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    1. Roads are funded with gas tax, which is a directly apportioned tax. Water is metered and can be funded the same way. Count the toilets and bathtubs, and send a bill. The commons should be limited in every case possible because it limits the potential tragedy of the commons. The buses right here in Edmonds are overwhelmingly empty. The buses can barely make the turn on 5th street.

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  13. Ron, I guess my concept of all of us working together is just not going to work. Based on some of the comments above some of these folks are really not inclined to work for a better govt. It always seems to be a battle or words and opinions. Matt says gas tax funds roads. We must be falling short of using gas because the budget is short by about $2m a year to maintain our road.
    Ron, I tried to explain some ideas but most will not comment and those that do just want to debate. If we are not careful we will Mask over some of the real issues!

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    1. Darrol – sincere question for you – there is some online information shows that based on state income averaging, the local and state tax burden per individual in WA was about 9.5% in 2010 and is now 12% in 2020. Is the issue that we should try to reduce that tax burden and find a down-trend back to 2010 era, or that we should shift the line-item tax components around somehow to re-distribute who feels the burden the most ?

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  14. Don, I will try to give you a sincere answer to very good questions. The second question first. Most say we have a regressive tax system. That is further defined as the percent of ones income that goes to taxes. Those making $24k or less pay around 18% to taxes or about $4300. Those upper income folks making $545k pay around 3% or about $16,500. In this example using a flat tax of around 3.6% for each would produce the same revenue but would shift around $3500 from the lower income to the higher income. It is not correct to use just these two extremes but the concept is to shift the burden just like you said. There are some who say flat tax is not enough of a shift and the would like a progress tax to shift more of the burden to higher income folks. The flat tax system is legal in WA but the progressive one is not.

    For a comment on your first question I will accept your numbers as stated 9.5% in 2010 and 12% now. Here are 4 ways to change the numbers.
    1. Bring in more people that do not need govt services and you bring down the percentage. Stupid answer but it would help mathematically.
    2. CV19 is causing many businesses to reevaluate new and cheaper ways to get the job done. The pubic sector should do the same.
    3. If we did do some income re distribution like the above we would provide a 15% increase in income. Given he greater income just maybe govt service could be reduced. Govt programs are often costly to just redistibute income. Sending a $1200 check to all was certainly more efficient than program set up to do similar things.
    Some thoughts Don.

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    1. Thx Darrol – then my Follow up question – how does a $30 car tab help anything? Seems mathematically insignificant in the scheme of things.

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  15. Don, we need some form of car registration and the DOT licensing looks to be pretty efficient. Car details in data base when purchased for title and all that. The mail a bill, we can pay on line and tab sent and placed on car. Cost study would show how much that process costs and that should be the minimum price for a tab. But wait there’s more! Here are some problems we are trying to solve.
    1. We need roads, state, county and city. How do we fund them in a consistent manner. Gas tax worked for a while but now we are moving toward less usage of gas and older, cheaper cars use more gas. Rich folks buy new, energy efficient cars leaving the gas tax shifting to folks with less income. Edmonds needs $2m a year to take care of roads. 20,000 households or $100/hh for roads. Cars use roads, 40,000 cars? in Edmonds, that would be $50 each. State and county roads, how should we fund? Gets a little pricy with lots of loop holes.
    2. We may need some form of mass transit but the benefits are always unequal. Live by a station get rid of a car but not living by a station means an added car. So the person benefiting (lives by station) pays less by getting rid of car. Probably need a better way to fund mass transit that tax the thing we want to get rid of.
    So far we need say 30 to cover cost of administration, 50 for local roads, and toss in 100 for state and county. Round up to 200 just for fun. Now the question is do we shift the tax to the wealthy? Using tab rev for stuff requires some careful thinking.

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  16. Don, I did not give a more complete answer to the how do we cut the tax burden from from 12% to something lower. The first goal should be to look at what are the problems we are trying to solve. Look at homeless as an example. Each time I see numbers the housing units planned and the cost to administer them works out to $100-200k or more. A generalization but we have 3 types of homeless, mental related, addiction related, and down on their luck related. Each type should have a “shelter” not a tent. Mental and addiction need other services. We can think about better ways to deal with down on their luck folks. A recent report from Vancouver Canada took 100 DOL folks, split into 2 control groups. The gave 50 folks $5000 and nothing for the other 50. A year later the ones who received money all but 3 had a roof over their head and on average still had $1000 in their account. They tracked the cost of both groups during the the year to provide some bed space at a shelter and the savings for the folks given the money exceeded the cost of the money.

    This is an example of govt looking at the problem they needed to solve, and think outside the box a bit on ways to fix that problem, do the work, track the results and adjust if needed. Thinking in those ways about our problems and new ways to fix them may well reduce the average tax burden. We need to be a bit more creative on how we solve problems and a good government can do it if we try.

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  17. As long as all ideas and taxes are subject to ideological litmus tests, there will be no solutions; just finger pointing and the blame game. There is no point in discussing any ideas with a confirmed ideologue because their views are already set an won’t be changed by logic or fact.

    In a sane World we would add up the cost of all our common needs, add up all the available income, figure out a percentage of all the available income that would cover the costs of our needs and assess everyone at that rate based on their income. A flat tax.

    The reasons we don’t do this are: 1. We can’t agree on what the needs are. 2. We can’t agree on what “income” is and 3. We label some forms of taxation as “capitalism” based and some forms as “socialism” based. You will never see the totally fair “flat” tax because high income people know they are better off with the loop hole value based system we have now. Regressive taxation works quite well for them and they know it. Low income people are not preventing the implementation of a “flat tax” for all.

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  18. Just for the record, I think I got a couple unfair slams in another thread that I wasn’t allowed to rebut or explain by people who aught to know better. I’m not angry at you, Teresa, just disappointed. My comments about the nature and ideology of the past and present of the two major political parties should have been allowed with some moderation perhaps. I think Alicia would have appreciated that. I also would never advocate or try to provoke people to carry firearms to intimidate people anywhere and Darrol knows that. I also don’t know how you talk about voting without talking about politics. Thanks, Clint

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