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Judge upholds Washington’s $17B transportation package


Judge upholds Washington’s $17B transportation package

Sep 22, 2023 | 5:59 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Judge upholds Washington’s $17B transportation package
Crews work on the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River in 2019. (Oregon Department of Transportation)

An effort to derail a sweeping state transportation package failed Friday, with a Thurston County judge upholding the law. 

But opponents hinted that the legal fight may not be over. They’d sued asserting the legislation contains multiple unrelated topics in violation of a state constitutional requirement that bills cover no more than one subject. 

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson disagreed, denying their motion to invalidate the 2022 law. She granted a motion for summary judgment filed by state attorneys and dismissed the case.

Jackson Maynard, executive director of the Citizen Action Defense Fund, which brought the suit on behalf of a Clark County resident and an Auburn trucking firm, said he and the other challengers in the case were disappointed and disagreed with the ruling.

“Because this ruling is at odds with other court decisions striking down legislation dealing with transportation on single subject grounds, we are considering every option, including and especially, direct appeal to the State Supreme Court,” he said.

Majority Democrats passed Senate Bill 5974 on the final day of the 2022 legislative session without a single Republican vote. Gov. Jay Inslee signed it March 25, 2022.

Dubbed Move Ahead Washington, it is a blueprint for spending $17 billion through 2038 on road projects and maintenance, transit expansion, fish-barrier removal, and more. It pledges money to replace the Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, build four electric state ferries and to allow anyone under the age of 18 to ride free on buses, trains and ferries.

The legislation, which spans 122 pages, also contains policies on electric vehicle sales, a clean fuel standard, city sales tax authority for local projects and toll lanes on Interstate 405.

Attorney Callie Castillo, representing plaintiffs Tracy Doriot and Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. argued that the Legislature “overreached its constitutional authority” by stringing together a hodgepodge of issues. This violates the single subject rule in Article 2 Section 19 of the state constitution, the plaintiffs contended.

Alicia Young, a deputy solicitor general in the Attorney General’s Office, countered that it is an omnibus bill addressing multiple issues involving transportation. 

Judge Wilson agreed, saying it is not an illegal potpourri.

“The Legislature can have broad omnibus bills that cover a general topic as the Legislature did here,” she said.  “Each of the challenged sections have some incidental or rational relationship to one another.”

Following the decision, an Inslee spokesman expressed appreciation of the judge’s “careful consideration of this matter.”