Washington High Court OKs Car Tax to Pay for Seattle Tram Project

(CN) – A 62-mile light-rail expansion project can move forward after a ruling from Washington’s Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved increase in vehicle registration taxes.

Voters approved a 2016 ballot measure to pay for light-rail and other projects under the area’s Sound Transit 3 expansion project, which would include a new network of light-rail to ease congestion between Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Kirkland. Under the new law, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, or Sound Transit, collected billions in increased vehicle registration tax fees.

Seattle, Washington.

But a 2018 class action led by Taylor Black claimed the measure was unconstitutional and never should have made it to the ballot. Black and the other plaintiff taxpayers demanded their contributions back.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn J. Nelson found the measure constitutional because it references and adopts the specific tax rates described in other laws. Black appealed the court’s dismissal.

On Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court also found the measure constitutional, ruling 7 to 2 that the text of the law clearly and unambiguously explains which tax rates apply. It further complies with the state constitution because it doesn’t require a reader to do further research to figure out other laws it impacts, the justices noted.

Attorneys for Black and for Sound Transit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Because the Legislature clearly laid out when each schedule will apply, there is no confusion or ambiguity arising from the text of the statute itself,” Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority.

In his dissent, Justice Gordon McCloud said the measure created “confusion and ambiguity” by “incorporating material that is inconsistent with laws on the books today” – namely an old vehicle depreciation schedule and an entire chapter of the 1996 vehicle code.

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