Washington state court hears arguments over car-tab tax cuts

SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a voter-approved car-tab tax cut was legal or if its ballot title misled voters.

The state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee suspended some projects and shuffled budgets as if the tax reduction will take effect, but the court has yet to rule, The Seattle Times reported.

Previous vehicle fees and taxes, including those for city road work and Sound Transit, remain in effect. State voters approved the tax cuts about eight months ago.

Justice Steven Gonzalez critiqued a phrase in the ballot title that said vehicle taxes and fees would be lowered to $30 “except voter-approved charges.”

“I want to know what the policy is. I’m having difficulty discerning it,” Gonzalez said. “Is ‘voter-approved taxes’ those which are previously approved? Or those to be approved in the future?”

Alan Copsey, a lawyer for the state attorney general’s office, which is defending the initiative, said the measure repeals past voter-approved car taxes and fees, and moments later affirmed, “I am not aware of any that are not touched.”

Others questioned if it was legal to use car values from a private company, specifically Kelley Blue Book, to determine state tax.

“That can be lawfully reverse engineered and already has been at the state-Senate level," said Stephen Pidgeon, an attorney for tax opponent Clint Didier, a Franklin County commissioner who is among those defending the initiative.

King County attorney David Hackett argued that the initiative amounts to unconstitutional “logrolling” by mixing Blue Book values, a reduction of state car-tab fees to $30, and clauses not in the ballot title that aimed to reduce Sound Transit taxes and debt.

The Sound Transit taxes cost about $60 and are intended to fund increased bus service.

“This initiative is a dumpster fire by the standards of the law,” Hackett said, adding that people in Spokane, Ephrata and Buckley, and Pierce County, were thrown into voting about Sound Transit taxes not affecting them.