By 6-3, Court opens the door to mischief
Sound Transit's 6-3 victory over the citizens' group Sane Transit is a dangerous precedent. Sound Transit has played bait-and-switch on the people, and the Washington Supreme Court has let it get away with it.
In 1996, voters were offered a light-rail line 21 miles long. It was to run from the University District to Sea-Tac airport. They voted yes. In 2001, Sound Transit changed that to a 14-mile line that would not reach either the U District or Sea-Tac. Sound Transit shortened the line but did not lower the tax. Its opponents sued, claiming that the new plan wasn't what voters had approved.
Said dissenting Justice Tom Chambers: "If the voters approved a three-bridge project, would we hold that two bridges for the same price was within the scope of the voters' approval? I think not."
But Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, speaking for the majority, said the voters had approved it whether they knew it or not. The ballot title referred to a Resolution 75, and if the voter had trekked down to the county auditor's office and looked up Resolution 75, the voter could have read that Sound Transit reserved the right to change its plans. If it wanted to, Sound Transit could shorten the Link Light Rail line to 14 miles, or 1 mile, or a block and a half.
Alexander did not say voters knew that. He said that what voters knew was none of the court's concern. "An inquiry into the voter's subjective understanding of what he or she thought he or she was enacting is a task we will not undertake," he wrote.
The court did not need to probe into voters' heads. Justices needed only to look at what voters were told. By law, each voter was mailed a disclosure document. It was eight pages long. It described the 21-mile light-rail line, where it would go, what it would cost and how long it would take to build. It assured the voter that the plan was doable. It made no mention of Sound Transit reserving the power to change the plan. It did not mention Resolution 75.
Justice Richard Sanders concluded that the voters had not voted on Resolution 75 because they had never been presented with it.
That is what the court should have ruled. By allowing Sound Transit to change its contract with voters after the fact, it opens the door to mischief unlimited.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company