Black v. Sound Transit: The ST3 Car Tab Case

On June 5th, car owning taxpayers in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties sued Sound Transit, challenging the new ST3 car tab tax as unconstitutional. Represented by lawyers Joel Ard and David DeWolf, the taxpayers point out that Sound Transit violated our state constitution when it drafted ST3 car tab legislation in 2015. Instead of using the existing statutory vehicle valuation schedule, as it was required to do, Sound Transit tried to get the legislature to allow it to use a defunct, long repealed schedule with grossly inflated car values. Sound Transit could have asked the legislature openly for this method of increasing its revenue, spelling out (as the Constitution requires) how the new legislation would change the existing law.  But instead Sound transit hid its reliance on the old, inflated schedule by including only a brief and obscure reference to repealed laws. Because Sound Transit failed to follow the “full disclosure” rule in the constitution, its bad drafting renders the entire ST3 car tab levy unconstitutional.

On July 5th, the taxpayer plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, asking the Pierce County judge to review the statute and find that it violates the constitution. If the judge agrees, Sound Transit will have to stop collecting the ST3 levy and refund back to taxpayers the money it has collected since March 2017. According to Sound Transit’s financials, this already exceeds $400,000,000. The court hearing on that request is currently scheduled for August 17, at 9am in Pierce County Superior Court, and is open to the public.

The taxpayer plaintiffs have also offered to settle and compromise with Sound Transit. While the court is only allowed to strike the entire car tab levy from the statute, the parties can seek the court’s approval of a compromise whereby the court would strike part of the section, leaving in place a correct, constitutional authorization that relies on the existing, statutory, vehicle valuations – a schedule the legislature put in place in 2006 to base car tab fees on real vehicle value instead of the repealed, inflated MSRP numbers Sound Transit is using. If Sound Transit agrees to the compromise, taxpayers will see prompt tax relief in the form of credits against car tab fees when vehicle registration is renewed.  These credits could reach $200,000,000, reflecting the overpayments made because of Sound Transit’s use of the impermissible schedule. This compromise would benefit both taxpayers and Sound Transit.  The taxpayers would get immediate and permanent tax relief, along with the assurance that future taxes would be based on real-world vehicle values for car tabs; Sound Transit would avoid a major derailment of its plans for construction and operation of ST3.


Read the documents:

Black v CPSRTA Class Complaint

Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgement

Black v CPSRTA Settlement Offer


What can you do? 

The Sound Transit board is your elected officials. You can contact them and voice your opinion. Their contact information is on the Sound Transit website: Click here for the list of Board Members

In addition, the proposed settlement may require the Legislature to finalize the fix. You can contact your state representative and senator to let them know where you stand as well.

You can look up your Representative or Senator here: Washington State Legislature District Finder

And you can find their contact information here: Washington State Legislature All Members Email List


For further inquires, please contact:

Joel Ard
Phone: (206) 294 – 5211

Seattle | 206.492.7531
Portland | 503.802.5533