Group’s lawsuit seeks to void Washington transportation law

SEATTLE (AP) — A conservative legal advocacy organization is suing to halt the nearly $17 billion transportation funding bill passed by the Washington Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last year.

The organization, the Citizen Action Defense Fund, argued in a filing Tuesday that the 16-year transportation revenue package contains multiple subjects that lack “rational unity” and because of that it violates the state constitution.

“It became a Christmas tree bill where everybody gets to throw something on,” executive director Jackson Maynard told The Seattle Times on Tuesday.

The case was brought on behalf of a construction company and a freight company that are “harmed and suffer injury” as a result, the lawsuit alleges.

Filed in Thurston County Superior Court, the lawsuit asks a judge to void the law entirely.

Senate Bill 5974, known as Move Ahead Washington, passed last session despite opposition from most Republicans. The legislation pays for finishing massive highway projects and pays for the state’s share of the cost — $1 billion — to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River that connects Washington and Oregon.

The plan gets $5.4 billion from a carbon pricing program with the rest coming from sources including federal infrastructure money, funding from the state budget, and higher fees on enhanced licenses and license plates.

The legislation also represents the state’s largest transportation investment in the ferry system, transit and bicycle and pedestrian projects, with billions going toward expanding options for people not driving a car.

Move Ahead was the fourth transportation funding package passed by the Legislature in the last 20 years.

Sen. Marko Liias, a Lynnwood Democrat who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said Tuesday that Lt. Governor Denny Heck vetted the bill before its passage and believed it would be found constitutional. The package provided a “comprehensive” answer to the state’s transportation needs, which is what voters wanted, Liias said.

Jaime Smith, spokesperson for Inslee, said the governor’s office hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but questioned how this package differed from the previous three.

It’s not uncommon for courts to toss new laws because they included too many subjects or their titles were deemed misrepresentative.

Hugh Spitzer, constitutional law professor at the University of Washington, said it would be surprising to him if the court were to toss the entire legislation.

The Citizen Action Defense Fund is funded by “donors across Washington” but does not disclose who, according to its website. Rob McKenna, a former Republican attorney general of Washington, is listed as a member of the organization’s attorney advisory board.