Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Olympia - December 22, 1999 - Attorney General Christine Gregoire today issued a "common-sense, legally sound" interpretation of Initiative 695 that she believes is in keeping with the understanding of the voters and will preserve its constitutionality in the face of legal challenges.

Initiative 695 Ruling



Initiative 695 Ruling
Judge Robert H. Alsdorf, King County Superior Court
March 14, 2000

Excerpts of I-695 rulings
Read by Judge Robert H. Alsdorf in open Court on March 14, 2000

Appendix A
Ballot title, explanatory statement, arguments for and against, and the text of the initiative
From the Office of the Secretary of State

Appendix B
A list of briefings and exhibits submitted to the Court

Note - All documents related to the the I-695 ruling, are in PDF format. If you do not have a copy of the necessary Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can download it free of charge by clicking on the icon below.

download acrobat reader

Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Lakewood(3/3/00)"Bainbridge.pdf" 277K

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
(3/3/00)  "Clean_Air_Agency.pdf" 684K

Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County(3/3/00)"Pud_No_1.pdf" 1MB

Ports of Watcom, Tacoma, Skagit County, Seattle, Longview, Kennewick, Friday Harbor, Bellingham(3/3/00)"Ports.pdf" 820K

Tacoma Water, Covington Water District, Lakehaven Utility District, Seattle Public Utilities, E.E. "Ted" Coates(3/3/00) "Tacoma_Water.pdf" 1MB



 February 11, 2000 Release:
Attorney General's Office Files Response in I-695 cases



AG memorandum
(12/22/99) "i695_tax_memo.rtf" 45K

I-695 Team

In answers to two complaints challenging the tax measure, Gregoire asserted that the initiative complies with the Washington Constitution, and courts should therefore permit the state to implement it.

In a separate memorandum, the AG’s office advised state agencies that increases in the price of goods and services that government commonly sells in a business or "proprietary" capacity–such as food and liquor, real property sales and rental agreements–do not require a public vote under the initiative.

"We believe I-695 is constitutional and have taken the first steps to defend the initiative on behalf of the State of Washington," Gregoire said. Under state law, the Attorney General is responsible for defending all legislation passed by the Legislature and initiatives passed by the people.

Gregoire has assigned a team of experienced state attorneys to defend the measure and provide consistent legal advice to state agencies.

I-695, passed in November, repeals Washington's motor-vehicle excise tax and imposes a flat annual fee of $30 for vehicle-license tabs. It also requires voter approval on future tax increases proposed by the state.

Plaintiffs in the two lawsuits answered today are Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 and the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council. The now-consolidated cases ask the King County Superior Court for a permanent injunction barring enforcement of I-695. The plaintiffs claim the law violates three provisions of the state Constitution.

The state's answer to the complaints calls on the court to dismiss the lawsuits and declare I-695 constitutional in all respects. The answer asserts that:

  • The initiative meets the Constitution’s one-subject requirement on legislation because I-695’s provisions all relate to a single matter, taxation;
  • The initiative’s voter-approval requirement is a constitutional exercise of the people’s legislative power;
  • The initiative does not conflict with constitutional limits on amending laws because those limits don’t apply to the kinds of statutory changes included in I-695.

The cities of Bremerton, Bainbridge Island and Lakewood have filed another I-695 case in Thurston County, but the AG's Office is seeking to have it transferred to King County. Several public utility agencies also have filed suit in Thurston County, seeking interpretations on Initiative 695’s impact on utility-related charges. The AG’s office has 20 days to answer those suits.

One or more of the I-695 cases is expected to reach the state Supreme Court next year.

The separate memorandum released by the Attorney General's Office today is intended to provide state agencies with guidance on which tax and fee increases would be subject to the initiative's voter-approval provision.

The initiative’s definition of tax includes sales, excise, and property taxes, as well as certain fees and other monetary charges by government.

"Our challenge was to distinguish between various monetary charges in a way that is consistent, principled and legally sound," Gregoire said. For purposes of I-695, the AG memorandum concludes that increases in charges for traditional governmental activities or services–such as fees to ride a ferry or use a state park–are subject to voter approval.

However, increases involving purely proprietary transactions, such as selling liquor or providing medical services at a public hospital, do not require voter approval.

"The language of I-695 shows voters want decision-making authority over government charges that have the look and feel of a tax," Gregoire said. "That doesn't mean they want to approve the price of hamburgers in a school cafeteria or firewood at a state park."

The memorandum is intended to provide general guidance to Assistant Attorneys General who will be advising state agencies on the scope of proposed fee increases covered by I-695. "In some instances, additional analysis may be necessary to determine how these principles should apply to particular programs and transactions," the memorandum said.


October 22 Media Advisory
OLYMPIA - The Attorney General's Office has prepared a memorandum that will provide assistant attorneys general with a common frame work for analyzing certain issues raised by I-695. 

10/13/99 Courts or Legislature Will Answer Car Tax Question If I-695 Passes