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"Bainbridge, Bremerton to challenge I-695"

"The cities of Bainbridge Island and Bremerton are teaming up for a legal challenge to Initiative 695.The suit, expected to be filed in Thurston County Superior Court today, was announced by officials from both cities Monday.“This suit reflects the underlying feelings and philosophy of Bainbridge Island citizens,” said Dwight Sutton, Bainbridge mayor. “It was a poorly crafted initiative, and it will mean economic disaster for all of us.”Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton has cited the initiative’s impact on that city’s transportation, including its imperiled connection by foot-ferry to Seattle.Monday, she said that, while some voters who supported the initiative will take issue with the suit, she believes most were trying to curb state spending, not that of local governments.“I think we got caught in the crossfire,” Horton said.The move had been under consideration by Bainbridge city officials for about two weeks, and by Bremerton for six weeks. While Sutton has the authority to approve litigation on his own, the city council gave its own informal approval in an executive session that preceded last Wednesday’s council meeting.Councilman Andy Maron had suggested a lawsuit, among other options, in an ad hoc report to the council earlier this month.“Lawsuits are being filed, and we need to get in the queue,” Maron said Tuesday. “(I-695’s) implementation has a huge impact on transportation, which is key to our life – not only our lives, but our economy of the West Sound.”The initiative, which earned 56 percent approval statewide in the Nov. 2 general election, eliminates the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and establishes a flat $30 registration fee. It also mandates a public vote on any tax or fee increase by public agencies and districts.Loss of MVET funding has resulted in the slashing of service by Kitsap Transit and other public transportation agencies heavily subsidized by the state.Washington State Ferries officials, meanwhile, have proposed a variety of layoffs, service cuts and fare hikes to keep that system afloat.But the validity of the initiative has been challenged by a number of local officials, not least for usurping the taxing authority of the Legislature spelled out in the Washington State Constitution.The initiative may also have violated a provision against having two separate issues on the same ballot initiative.Maron said he is most interested in seeing the constitutional issues settled.“We need to stand up and point that out,” he said. “If (sponsors) want to amend the constitution, they need to do it without a $30 carrot.”Seattle attorney Jim Robart has been retained to represent the two cities in the challenge. Bainbridge Island city attorneys are not expected to play a role in the case. Legal costs are expected to be minimal, because there won’t be much in the way of pre-trial fact-finding. Maron framed the question this way:“The constitution says this, the initiative says that – Court, is it constitutional?”Bremerton city attorney Glenna Malanca said Monday that Bremerton officials hope more cities will join in their challenge.The suit is being filed in Thurston County for several reasons, she said, among them that challenges to state law are “old hat” in that court.Officials assume that, whichever side prevails in the challenge, the issue will immediately be appealed to the state Supreme Court.“We hope to get it to the Supreme Court before the passenger ferries go (out of service) in June,” Malanca said.The suit will be the third challenge to I-695 filed by local municipalities and other agencies, and more are believed to be in the works.The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents bus workers in a three-county area around Seattle, filed suit against the initiative last month, and the community council of Vashon Island followed with its own challenge in early December.Those complaints, filed in King County Superior Court, challenge I-695 on a variety of legal grounds, some of which overlap with the Bainbridge-Bremerton suit.Politically, Sutton said he was buoyed by the overwhelming opposition to I-695 among Bainbridge voters. The initiative was opposed by 73 percent of island residents. Bremerton voters gave it 54 percent support.The initiative will be defended by the state attorney general’s office, which has already assigned a team of lawyers to the case. I-695 sponsors also plan to contribute money and legal assitstance to the defense."

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