Fortunato recruits lawyers to file suit against Sound Transit

Phil Fortunato. FILE PHOTO

Phil Fortunato. FILE PHOTO

State Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, continues to lead a legal fight over the high cost of car-tab fees.

Fortunato, who represents the 31st Legislative District, said he “recruited” lawyers Joel Ard and David DeWolf to help file a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against Sound Transit over its controversial method to calculate car-tab fees, which for some vehicle owners have risen substantially.

Lawmakers have repeatedly tried in the Legislature to scale back car-tab fees that were boosted to finance the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 construction project. Voters passed the mega-billion dollar ST3 package in the fall of 2015.

The lawsuit targets a Senate bill that Gov. Jay Inslee signed in July 2015, allowing Sound Transit to ask for voter approval for additional funding for ST3. The suit filed against Sound Transit and Washington state alleges the regional transit authority unconstitutionally collected car-tab taxes. Seven class representatives from King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, are seeking more than $240 million in damages totaling the revenue Sound Transit has collected to date.

Attorneys claim in the lawsuit that Sound Transit is using an antiquated method to measure vehicle value rather than a modern one lawmakers approved in 2006. The suit claims it is unconstitutional because it referenced a motor vehicle excise tax and valuation schedule that the state legislature had repealed 15 years prior.

Fortunato, who is not a party to the suit because he is not a resident in the regional transit authority area, participated in an investigation conducted by the Senate to determine if Sound Transit had misled lawmakers. There was no legislative fix for taxpayers, Fortunato said, so he led the effort to take the battle to court.

Sound Transit has been unwilling to address any concerns brought to its attention to revise the car-tab fee schedule, and provide relief to taxpayers, Fortunato said.

“They have exhibited a wanton lack of fiscal responsibility and thumbed their noses at citizen accountability,” Fortunato said. “Whether it’s lavish parties, more tolls or project-cost overruns, the voters deserve more accountability than they are getting.”

Fortunato said he has drafted legislation to address projects already started and bonds already issued.

“If the bill is found unconstitutional, the people you elect this fall will be the ones voting on my legislation that allows jurisdictions to opt out, creates an elected board and revises the fee schedule,” Fortunato said. “Taxpayers deserve a second chance to determine if they want to continue funding this reckless organization for the next 40 years – I want to give it to them.”

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