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March 04, 2003
AG Will Appeal I-776 Decision to State Supreme Court

OLYMPIA -- The Attorney General's Office today notified state courts that it will seek state Supreme Court review of a King County Superior Court ruling that Initiative 776 is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Christine Gregoire said she wants the Supreme Court to review the decision in order to more quickly resolve important legal questions concerning the initiative. King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu's Feb. 10 decision raised issues that have never been addressed by the Supreme Court, Gregoire said.

The Superior Court found that the initiative, which sought to limit the cost of vehicle license tabs to $30 per year, was unconstitutional because it presented voters with two subjects, a violation of the state Constitution's "single-subject rule." In addition to mandating $30 license tabs, the court said that the measure also asked voters to endorse a re-vote on previously approved transit projects, such as Sound Transit's proposed light-rail system.

The Attorney General's Office argued that the initiative did not violate the single-subject rule because the language on re-votes was not legally binding. The Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether non-binding language in a ballot measure can constitute a second subject prohibited by the Constitution. "We hope the Court can provide further clarification on what constitutes a second subject," Gregoire said. "That would provide valuable guidance for those who draft future initiatives, and hopefully reduce the number of expensive lawsuits arising from disputes over the wording of ballot measures."

The Attorney General is required by law to defend laws passed by the Legislature, and those such as I-776, which are approved by the voters through the initiative process.

The King County court found that I-776 also violated the state Constitution by impairing a contractual relationship between King County and the owners of county-issued bonds. The court concluded that the contract was impaired because a license fee that the initiative would have repealed had been pledged as collateral on the bonds.

The state argued that contract was not impaired because purchasers of the King County bonds knew that I-776 was pending before the voters, and because revenue from other sources were pledged to repay the bonds. The Supreme Court has not considered whether bond obligtations are impaired under these circumstances.


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