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October 30, 2003
State Supreme Court Upholds I-776, Clarifies Single-Subject Question

OLYMPIA - Today's state Supreme Court decision upholding Initiative 776 will help the drafters of future initiatives by clarifying the state constitutional requirement that initiatives contain only a single subject, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court's majority agreed with the state that the single subject I-776 put before voters was whether to limit the cost of vehicle license tabs to $30 per year. Additional statements contained in the initiative were "policy expressions" that had no legal effect, the court majority said.

"This opinion will give guidance to the drafters of future initiatives and helps to answer a question that has been raised in several recent cases," Gregoire said.

In February, a King County Superior Court judge reached a different conclusion, finding that language in the initiative concerning a possible re-vote on Sound Transit introduced an additional subject to the initiative.

Today's Supreme Court majority also found that I-776 did not impair the contractual relationship between King County and holders of bonds the county offered for sale in October 2002, a month before the statewide vote on I-776.

King County had passed a $15 motor vehicle excise tax that was added to the cost of vehicle tabs, and it pledged that money along with other revenues to pay off the bonds. But since potential bondholders were made aware that passage of I-776 might end that source of revenue, passage of the initiative did not impair the contractual relationship, the court said.

The court did not resolve the question of how I-776 may impact the use of vehicle taxes to pay off bonds issued by Sound Transit to develop a regional mass-transit system. Those bonds were issued well before I-776 was proposed. Previous state Supreme Court decisions have held that laws cannot impair the contractual rights of bondholders.

The Sound Transit bonds will be among the issues addressed when the I-776 case is returned to King County Superior Court for further proceedings. A new hearing date has not been set.

Joining in today's majority opinion were Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justices Charles Johnson, Barbara Madsen, Richard Sanders and Mary Fairhurst. Justices Tom Chambers, Bobbe Bridge and Faith Ireland filed a dissenting opinion.


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