Opinion

Supreme Court ruling on I-776 validates voters

Last week’s ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court upholding Initiative 776 will have little direct impact on local motorists, since Kitsap County doesn’t tack additional fees onto its car tabs anyway. Still, Kitsap voters, who overwhelmingly embraced the measure when it first appeared on the ballot in November 2002, should be heartened to — at last — see their desires validated by the court.

I-776, known informally as “Son of 695,” sought to reinforce the most important element — $30 car tabs — built into Initiative 695, which voters statewide had earlier approved by a lopsided margin. Like its predecessor, however, 776 was subsequently struck down by a Superior Court judge on grounds the initiative contained more than one element.

The Superior Court ruling against 776 last February was hailed by the initiative’s opponents as a repudiation of the measure’s intent and of its contentious author, Mukilteo businessman Tim Eyman, even though the decision was based entirely on a legal technicality, not in the merits of the initiative.

By a 6-3 margin, however, the Supreme Court last week ruled I-776 did not address more than one subject and was, therefore, both legal and enforceable.

Again, the ruling only indirectly affects Kitsap County residents. Following the original victory for I-695 in 1999, state lawmakers during the 2000 legislative session passed a law limiting car tabs to a flat $30 per year, but allowed individual counties the freedom to add fees and service charges.

Kitsap County, to its credit, has always recognized its voters’ wishes to see car tabs capped at $30, but motorists elsewhere haven’t been as lucky. Most notably, King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties assess fees to pay for light rail and other transportation expenditures. Whether they will be able to continue to do so in light of the Supreme Court’s action remains to be seen.

In any case, voters even in Kitsap and counties where additional fees aren’t collected, had to have been alarmed when the courts stepped to nullify the results of an initiative that had won so convincingly at the polls. To that extent, Kitsap residents should be as relieved as anyone that the Supreme Court stepped in and made things right.

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