Initiative 976 is an initiative to the 2019 Legislature proposed by Tim Eyman. It seeks to wipe out billions of dollars in funding for Sound Transit Link light rail expansion, Amtrak Cascades, and WSDOT. Permanent Defense is working to defeat I-976 in partnership with allies who agree that these vital investments must be protected. Join us at no976.org.
Read NPI’s statement thanking the plaintiffs and their attorneys for a job well done making the case against Tim Eyman’s initiative to wipe out funding for multimodal transportation infrastructure. The case is now submitted and a final decision is expected from the Supreme Court in the fall of 2020.
Today, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Garfield County Transportation Authority, et al. v. State of Washington, the legal challenge to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, with a final ruling expected to follow in several months’ time, perhaps in the autumn of this year.
I-976 is the measure that voters considered and adopted last year that concerns transportation funding; I-976 was concocted to wipe out billions of dollars in funding for non-highway modes of transportation, which Eyman ideologically opposes investing in.
The case, No. 98320-8, seeks the complete invalidation of Initiative 976 on the grounds that it violates multiple provisions of the Washington State Constitution, including the single subject rule and the subject-in-title rule. The plaintiffs/appellants are Garfield County Transportation Authority, the City of Seattle, King County, the Washington State Transit Association, the Association of Washington Cities, the Port of Seattle, Intercity Transit of Thurston County, the Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington, and Michael Rogers.
The defendant/respondent is the State of Washington due to I-976’s passage last November by a submajority of Washington State voters.
(We user the term submajority because just 23.44% of the state’s then 4,503,871 registered voters voted for I-976, while 20.80% voted no and 55.76% did not vote at all.)
The intervenor-plaintiffs (appellants) are Washington Adapt, the Transit Riders Union, and Climate Solutions; the intervenor-defendants (respondents) are Clint Didier, Permanent Offense, Tim Eyman, Mike Fagan, Jack Fagan, and Pierce County.
The outcome of the legal challenge will determine whether I-976 ever goes into effect or not.
The State is currently barred from implementing the initiative by an injunction originally issued by King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson last November and subsequently sustained by the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Court will have the final word as to I-976’s constitutionality when it eventually rules.
The Court has previously struck down, in whole or in part, the following Eyman initiatives:
I-695 from 2000: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 19. See ATU v. State.
I-1366 from 2015: Struck down because it violated Article II, Section 19. See Lee v. State.
Appellants assert that I-976 is unconstitutional on multiple fronts, including on an Article II, Section 19 basis, and therefore must be struck down in its entirety. The major issues in the case, as identified by the appellants, are as follows:
Does I-976 violate article II, section 19 single subject requirements because it combines multiple subjects that are not germane to each other?
Does I-976 violate article II, section 19 subject in title requirements because its ballot title affirmatively misrepresents what the measure “would do” and does not include necessary subjects?
Does I-976 violate article II, section 37 by amending existing statutes without setting the amendments forth in full, thereby resulting in confusion as to the effect of the new law?
May unconstitutional provisions of an initiative be severed from the measure when they were included in the ballot title?
Does I-976 violate article XI, section 12 by depriving municipal governments of vested local taxing authority for local purposes prior to expiration of the local tax?
Does I-976 violate Washington’s separation of powers doctrine through legislative intrusion on the executive function of administering bond repayment?
Does I-976 violate article VII, section 5 by diverting tax dollars from the purposes approved by local voters?
The I-976 ballot title — which our team at NPI has previously characterized as a blazing dumpster fire — is likely to receive a lot of attention during today’s oral argument. Titles are the language that voters see on their ballots when they open them up to vote. The title is supposed to be a representative summary of the measure which ends in a question. The I-976 ballot title was as follows:
Initiative Measure No. 976 concerns motor vehicle taxes and fees.
This measure would repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
(It is also worth noting that in addition to misrepresenting what the measure would do from a revenue perspective, the ballot title utterly failed to mention that the measure would have a destructive effect on a huge number of already approved transportation projects.)
While I-976’s deceptive ballot title was a huge asset to sponsor Tim Eyman during the campaign phase of the battle over I-976, it now appears to be a potentially fatal liability that could ensure the initiative never takes effect at all.
Though today’s oral argument will definitely be worth watching, it’s worth remembering that the written record is far more important. Attorneys who argue cases before the Supreme Court like to say that ninety percent of a case is the briefs. So, to properly understand this case, we recommend reading the briefs linked above… or scanning them if you’ve got a limited amount of time to devote to this subject.
Last year, during the campaign for and against Initiative 976, sponsor Tim Eyman told a lot of whoppers as he crisscrossed the state promoting the incredibly destructive measure to gut funding for multimodal transportation investments… whoppers that were often repeated in the mass media without being debunked or even challenged.
With the Supreme Court on the verge of hearing oral arguments in the legal challenge against I-976 in just eleven days, it’s a good time to reflect anew on the ramifications that would result from I-976’s implementation, and a good time to hold Tim Eyman accountable for his many fibs and fabrications, especially given that Eyman is now a candidate for governor, the highest office in the state.
One of Eyman’s whoppers, which we addressed in an advisory on September 24th, 2019 (read it here), concerned the statewide fiscal fallout from I-976.
I-976 sought to repeal vehicle fees at three different levels (state, regional/Sound Transit, and local) as well as a slice of the sales tax on vehicle sales that is dedicated to transportation improvements.
During the course of the campaign Eyman claimed — falsely — that there was a “$3.5 billion surplus” that lawmakers could tap to backfill the big hole that I-976 would leave from gutting those revenue sources.
“There is more than enough revenue to backfill any affected government program,” Eyman wrongly declared on multiple occasions as he pitched the initiative.
“That [$3.5 billion] figure, now about $3.1 billion in the latest available projections, includes the state’s rainy-day fund that even some conservative groups are hesitant to drain,” Groover reported.
“About $2.2 billion is in that fund. Lawmakers need a three-fifths vote to spend from that account — except after catastrophic events and during times of low employment growth. The remaining $952 million in reserves are not in the rainy-day fund and could be spent with a simple majority.”
Groover’s story goes on to recount what happened to agencies like Washington State Ferries after Eyman’s I-695 was partially implemented twenty years ago.
As mentioned, in many other stories we saw, including one that was billed as a fact-checking segment, Eyman’s claim about there being “more than enough revenue to backfill any affected government program” was repeated without being debunked or even being challenged like it should have been.
As a consequence, some voters may have bought into the false notion that I-976 was a free lunch and that its approval would not jeopardize projects.
“During the campaign against I-976, we made it abundantly clear that there was no ‘$3.5 billion net surplus’ and that Tim Eyman was lying,” said Northwest Progressive Institute founder and executive director Andrew Villeneuve.
“Monies set aside for a rainy day in the budget stabilization account are not surplus funds, they are emergency funds, and they are constitutionally protected precisely to guard against the possibility of being raided to pay for things that aren’t actual emergencies… like the irresponsible tax cutting schemes of a shoplifting grifter obsessed with instant gratification. The events of the last few months have demonstrated exactly what we meant last autumn when we said there was no surplus.”
“The emergency that we were saving for has arrived. We now need every penny of the rainy day fund and our reserves to stabilize our budget and avoid horrific cuts to services.”
“Washington State couldn’t afford Tim Eyman’s I-976 in 2019 and it certainly can’t afford I-976 now,” Villeneuve added. “Because I-976 is blatantly unconstitutional, there is still an opportunity for it to be defeated in the Supreme Court before it can start wreaking havoc on our already-suffering communities. We are grateful to all the plaintiffs who have carried on the fight against I-976 in the courts, and we are hopeful that when the case is finally over, I-976 will have been struck down in its entirety and Washingtonians will have dodged a massive transportation budget bomb. In the meantime, Tim Eyman must be held accountable for his lies at every opportunity.”
This afternoon, King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson ruled that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 would remain on ice for the time being, granting a motion by the plaintiffs who have challenged its constitutionality to keep an injunction in place that bars its implementation. I-976 seeks to eliminate billions of dollars in funding for essential transportation needs at the state, regional, and local levels; it passed last November and was immediately subjected to a legal challenge.
Judge Ferguson’s order preserves the status quo while the case progresses in the Washington State Supreme Court. The parties in the case have asked the Court to decide the fate of the preliminary injunction, which was initially issued by Judge Ferguson the day before Thanksgiving last year. The Supreme Court has already upheld the injunction once. Now plaintiffs are asking that it be kept in place until the legal challenge is resolved. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, on the other hand, has asked that the injunction be lifted.
Earlier this week, in a Tuesday email, Tim Eyman falsely told his followers and the press that I-976 would be going into effect today (Friday).
“HUGE VICTORY,” Eyman’s subject line declared. “Judge Ferguson signs Final Judgment Order three days early, I-976 takes effect on Friday.”
Of course, that was a lie. The aforementioned order concerned the disposition of the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and did not concern the preliminary injunction.
But today’s order does. Judge Marshall Ferguson wrote that it is “ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that Plaintiffs’ Emergency Motion is GRANTED. The date to lift the preliminary injunction entered in this matter on November 27, 2019 is continued from March 27, 2020 until such date when the Washington Supreme Court rules on Plaintiffs’ Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Review.”
Consequently, I-976 will not be going into effect today as Eyman claimed.
Unusually, Eyman tacitly admitted that his statement about I-976 going into effect was a fabrication in the very same email that he sent out on Tuesday.
Buried in the email, above Eyman’s signature line, was the following:
“To be clear: On behalf of taxpayers, I can’t declare victory yet, but it’s looking good that anxious citizens will get some needed tax relief very soon,” Eyman conceded.
Northwest Progressive Institute founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve thanked media outlets for not picking up on Eyman’s lie and thereby misinforming more Washingtonians about the status of the case.
“These are difficult times and people need accurate, reliable information,” said Villeneuve. “A public health crisis like this coronavirus pandemic reminds us how important the truth is and how important science is. Sadly, Tim Eyman doesn’t care about truth or science. He wants so badly for I-976 to be implemented that he keeps publicly pretending that it has gone into effect… or imminently will.”
“However, I-976 remains on ice. The Supreme Court will have the final word on I-976’s constitutionality, as it always does in a case like this. Like Judge Ferguson, the justices are aware that if the injunction were to be lifted but the initiative later found unconstitutional, the people’s public services would be irreparably harmed.”
“We hope and expect that the Court will keep the injunction in place until it reaches a final decision with respect to Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims.”
The case is Garfield County Transportation Authority et al vs. State of Washington et al, 19-2-30171-6 SEA.
Today and throughout this month, Permanent Defense celebrates its eighteenth anniversary, marking one two hundred and sixteen months of continuous operation.
The events of the past twelve months have served as a reminder of how important and essential Permanent Defense’s work is.
After a multi-year stretch with almost no right wing measures on the statewide ballot, we faced an election in which there were two (Initiative 976 and Referendum 88) in yet another odd-numbered year with poor turnout.
We did not realize our 2019 electoral goals, but our work goes on. The results of last November’s election were a setback, but not the end of the story. We refuse to lose.
We simply can’t afford the destructive cuts to multimodal transportation infrastructure that would result from the implementation of Tim Eyman’s I-976, nor can we allow Eyman’s Initiative 200 to remain in place for another two decades.
2019 also reminded us how tough it is to wage campaigns when the opposition has a stacked deck working in their favor. Going forward, we must end abusive practices like ballot title shopping that make it laughably easy for scammers like Eyman to perpetrate their cons. And we must eliminate Eyman’s taxpayer-funded propaganda from the ballot.
Even though the 2019 ballot was rigged against us with deceptive, poorly written ballot titles and propaganda, we went all in to defeat Initiative 976 and save Initiative 1000.
And we have no regrets about that. Our communities are worth defending from bad ballot measures. Even in an electoral landscape rigged against us, taking a stand for the values our state was founded upon was the just and moral thing to do.
I have no doubt that were it not for the work of NPI’s Permanent Defense project and Keep Washington Rolling/Washington Fairness Coalition partners, the outcomes of both initiatives would have been very lopsided in favor of the right wing. By taking a stand, we brought down the opposition’s margin of victory significantly.
During the past twelve months, in addition to opposing I-976, we also opposed three other Tim Eyman ballot measures that all failed to qualify:
and Initiative 1082.
Referendum 80 sought to nullify a set of pay increases approved by Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, while Initiatives 1608 and 1082 were attempts to repeal modest revenue reforms adopted by the Legislature in the 2019 long session. All three measures died after their signature drives ended in failure.
Were it not for our work to hold Tim Eyman accountable for his lying, cheating, and stealing, Eyman might have been able to line up one or more wealthy benefactors to put money behind those measures, like he has in years past. But he wasn’t able to.
All the while, Eyman was racking up fines in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running campaign finance enforcement case against him due to his continuing and willful violations of court orders, which have landed him in contempt.
We wish the Attorney General’s office well in their determined and sorely needed efforts to hold Eyman accountable. This summer, the case against Eyman is scheduled to go to trial, and we will be following the proceedings with great interest.
Even in difficult times and difficult circumstances, there are bright spots. I’m very proud of the groundbreaking initiatives Permanent Defense undertook in support of Initiative 1000 and against Initiative 976 in 2019. They made a difference and demonstrated what can be accomplished with imaginative advocacy.
Enjoy the following chronology of my favorite moments from our eighteenth year.
Eyman abandons Referendum 80
April 12th, 2019
Often his own worst enemy, Eyman made an incorrect assumption when proceeding with plans for a signature drive in support of a measure aimed at nullifying the 2020 salary schedule approved by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials in early 2019. As a consequence, all of the work he put into Referendum 80 was for naught, and he abandoned the measure in disgust rather than start over.
Eyman’s I-1648 crashes and burns
July 5th, 2019
With representatives of the Northwest Progressive Institute watching (and photographing!), Tim Eyman was forced to admit that his frantic efforts to qualify a measure to the November 2019 ballot with the muscle of a reactionary, pro-secession group called “Liberty State” had ended in failure.
Lynnwood Link groundbreaking
September 3rd, 2019
Just after Labor Day, Sound Transit broke ground on Lynnwood Link, an extension of the agency’s regional light rail network, which will bring light rail close to Eyman’s old stomping grounds of Mukilteo (he is now a resident of Bellevue in the heart of King County). Preventing Eyman from interfering with Sound Transit’s efforts to build Link was the objective of the first campaign that Permanent Defense undertook in 2002.
Every groundbreaking and every station opening gets our region closer to a future where people have the freedom to safely and reliably get around without a car.
Eyman ordered to report personal income as campaign contributions by Judge Dixon
September 13th, 2019
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon granted Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s motion to impose additional sanctions on Eyman, who has consistently tried to evade accountability for his violations of Washington’s public disclosure law through a legal defense strategy dubbed by NPI as “stonewalling in the extreme”.
Never before has the destructive impact of a Tim Eyman initiative been visualized as elegantly and powerfully as it was with our NO on I-976 Impact Map, designed by the talented Oran Viyancy. We rolled out the map at press events in Auburn and Seattle, and it was seen by hundreds of thousands of people on the web or on the local news.
We developed two ads for Spanish language radio outlets urging a NO vote on Tim Eyman’s transit-destroying Initiative 976 and an APPROVED vote on Initiative 1000, the Washington Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Act. Although not all voters speak English or use it as their first language, very few campaigns make any effort to create materials in languages other than English. We made the effort.
Just before Thanksgiving, King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson put Eyman’s incredibly destructive I-976 on ice with an injunction barring it from taking effect on December 5th — a decision that was subsequently upheld by the the State Supreme Court a few days later, and a decision that kept funding for transportation improvements flowing to over sixty cities throughout Washington.
Eyman fails to qualify I-1082
January 3rd, 2020
As 2020 began, the deadline to submit signatures for initiatives to the 2020 Legislature came and went without an appearance by Eyman at the Secretary of State’s office. The death of Initiative 1082 went entirely unmentioned by Eyman, who had ceased using the doomed measure as a fundraising gimmick several weeks prior.
Today, King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson issued a ruling in the I-976 legal challenge on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, just hours before Tim Eyman confirmed that he’s running for Governor as a Republican during a rambling, Trump-like speech in Yakima. NPI founder Andrew Villeneuve offered the following observations in response to these developments.
On the court ruling:
“NPI disagrees with Judge Marshall Ferguson’s ruling on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment in the I-976 legal challenge. While we deeply appreciate the time that Judge Ferguson took to consider the issues in this complex case, including an entire day of oral argument, we believe the conclusions he reached are erroneous. We concur with the plaintiffs that I-976 suffers from multiple constitutional defects, including violations of the single subject rule and the subject-in-title rule. I-976 is not a well-drafted initiative. We look forward to seeing this case reach the Washington State Supreme Court for a final determination regarding its constitutionality, or lack thereof.”
“Now that Tim Eyman is a candidate for high office instead of just a pitchman for destructive initiatives, he looks and sounds even more like his idol, Donald Trump. Trump is a master of media manipulation and projection: he projects his own faults onto his opponents every chance that he gets. That’s exactly what Tim Eyman did during his speech in Yakima while speaking to a friendly audience of followers, including Republican precinct committee officers. Both Tim Eyman and Donald Trump are egotistical, narcissistic sociopaths who revel in their ability to exploit and dupe people. Neither Trump nor Eyman is fit to serve in any public office at any level of government.”
This morning, King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson is once again hearing oral arguments in Garfield County et al v. State of Washington et al, the legal challenge to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, which the Garfield County Transportation Authority and other plaintiffs (including intervenor plaintiffs) contend is unconstitutional.
Initiative 976 is the destructive and deceptive measure sponsored by Eyman that Washington voters saw on their ballots last autumn, which falsely advertised the prospect of “thirty dollar car tabs” in its ballot title, with no consequences mentioned whatsoever.
I-976 was adopted with the support of a submajority of voters; 23.44% of Washingtonians registered to vote voted yes on I-976, while the remainder did not vote or voted no.
Turnout in the 2019 Washington State general election ended up at 45.19%, it was the seventh worst general election turnout in state history.
Like bills, initiatives proposed to the people must comply with all of the provisions of the Washington State Constitution. The plaintiffs in this case allege that Initiative 976 has eleven different constitutional defects.
Some of the alleged defects, if proven by the plaintiffs, would result in the invalidation of the initiative in its entirety.
For example, when a measure runs afoul of the Constitution’s anti-logrolling provision, severability does not apply and all provisions get voided.
In the words of the plaintiffs:
“I-976 had a deceptive ballot title that mislead the voters. It lied about ensuring car tabs would be $30. It combined multiple unrelated subjects to cobble together enough support to get the measure passed, a classic unconstitutional log-rolling guise. I-976 fails to set forth all statutes it amends rendering its application confusing.”
“It intrudes on local home rule powers of taxation for local purposes, seeks to over-turn local election results, and requires diversion of locally approved taxes. I-976 impairs contract obligations by seeking to eliminate Burien’s vehicle license fee that have been pledged to secure its bonds. Each of these matters are constitutional violations requiring that I-976 be struck down,” the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment concludes.
The plaintiffs are asking that Judge Ferguson find I-976 unconstitutional and strike it down; the defendants are asking that I-976 be upheld.
The initiative’s defense, in accordance with state law, is the responsibility of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, because it was passed by voters.
However, several parties have intervened in the case, so there will be many entities making arguments before Judge Ferguson at today’s hearing.
Q&A: Background on the I-976 legal challenge
What is the challenge about and why was it brought?
This case was brought to protect Washington State from the destructive ramifications that implementation of Initiative 976 would entail, and to defend the Washington State Constitution from I-976. I-976 threatens essential funding for multimodal transportation projects at three levels: state, regional, and local.
At the outset of the case, the plaintiffs had two objectives:
To temporarily prevent Initiative 976 from taking effect on December 5th, 2019 (as scheduled) and immediately depriving cities and transit agencies all over Washington State from revenue needed to ensure freedom of mobility
To permanently prevent Initiative 976 from taking effect by obtaining a declaratory judgment finding it unconstitutional on one or more grounds.
The plaintiffs succeeded in securing their first objective last year, when they persuaded Judge Marshall Ferguson to grant an injunction barring the implementation and enforcement of I-976, an order that was subsequently upheld on appeal. The plaintiffs are now asking Judge Ferguson to issue a declaratory judgment finding I-976 unconstitutional.
GARFIELD COUNTY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY; KING COUNTY; CITY OF SEATTLE; WASHINGTON STATE TRANSIT ASSOCIATION; ASSOCIATION OF WASHINGTON CITIES; PORT OF SEATTLE; INTERCITY TRANSIT; AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OF WASHINGTON; and MICHAEL ROGERS,
WASHINGTON ADAPT; TRANSIT RIDERS UNION; and CLIMATE SOLUTIONS,
STATE OF WASHINGTON,
CLINT DIDIER; PERMANENT OFFENSE, TIMOTHY D. EYMAN, MICHAEL FAGAN; JACK FAGAN; and PIERCE COUNTY,
What happens after oral argument?
Judge Ferguson will consider each party’s arguments and rule on the cross motions for summary judgment. Whichever way he rules, his decision will almost certainly be appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. A common adage among lawyers is that ninety percent of a case comes down to written briefs. So while today’s oral argument provides an opportunity for the judge to hear from the parties’ attorneys, the judge has already seen hundreds of pages of arguments and supporting documentation from the parties. NPI has copies of these materials and can provide them upon request.
When will the judge rule?
Judge Ferguson indicated this morning in his welcoming remarks to counsel and to the public that he plans to rule early next week, but cautioned he may choose to take more time to develop his ruling. He has set aside all of today for oral argument.
Didn’t the State Supreme Court already issue a ruling in this case?
Yes, but that ruling only concerned the injunction that Judge Ferguson ordered temporarily barring I-976 from going into effect. Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested that the Supreme Court overturn the injunction; a majority of the justices declined that request. I-976 will soon return before the Court for a final determination of its constitutionality. If the justices agree that the plaintiffs have proved I-976 unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt, it will not go into effect.
This isn’t the first Eyman initiative to face a legal challenge. How many Tim Eyman initiatives have previously been struck down as unconstitutional?
Seven if you don’t count Initiative 776, which was partially neutralized in Pierce County II.
Initiative 695 (1999; vehicle fees)
Initiative 722 (2000; property taxes)
Initiative 747 (2001; property taxes)
Initiatives 960, 1053, 1185 (2007, 2010, 2012; thresholds for passage of revenue bills)
Initiative 1366 (2015; attempted extortion to re-implement I-960/I-1053/I-1185)
Permanent Defense works to protect Washington by building a first line of defense against threats to the common wealth and Constitution of the Evergreen State — like Tim Eyman's initiative factory. Learn more.