The state Supreme Court has ruled in favor of King County after a nearly two-year legal battle over language in a vote-approved 2012 levy lid lift that funds the new youth and juvenile detention center in Seattle.
On Dec. 27, the Washington Supreme Court issued a ruling against a legal challenge brought by End Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), which sought to invalidate a 2012 King County ballot measure that increased property taxes by 7 cents in 2013, then increased it by the standard limit of 101 percent for the following eight years. EPIC filed a challenge in April 2016, arguing that language in the ballot title had misled voters into thinking the increase would be a one-time rate hike. The King County Superior Court sided with the county and dismissed the claim, but a court of appeals decision reversed the dismissal, and it was brought to the state Supreme Court.
The $210 million levy is being used to fund a replacement for the Youth Services Center with the Children and Family Justice Center in Seattle’s Central District on 12th Avenue and Alder Street. It is expected to open in late 2019 and has inspired a resistance movement that has organized against it.
Following the state Supreme Court’s decision, King County Director of Facilities Management Anthony Wright issued a written statement to Seattle Weekly.
“We are pleased with the state Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today. Our position is, and has always been, that King County voters fully understood the levy lid lift question on the August 2012 ballot, that they were aware the levy would last for nine years, and that the additional revenue would be used to build a full replacement of the Youth Services Center,” he wrote.
Central to EPIC’s challenge was a change in language between the King County Council’s suggested wording of the 2012 ballot title, which stated: “The 2013 levy amount would become the base upon which levy increases would be computed for each of the eight succeeding years.” This was changed by the county’s prosecuting attorney to read: “Increases in the following eight years would be subject to the limitations in chapter 84.55 RCW.” Following the proposed language being published in 2012, there were no challenges filed during the following 10-day waiting period, and the measure was approved by county voters.
In April 2016, EPIC sued the county over its implementation of the levy lid lift, saying the ballot title left out language telling voters that 2013 would be the basis for computing levies over the following eight years and that taxes collected beginning in 2014 were unlawful. The Supreme Court examined the decision on whether EPIC’s claim was subject to the 10-day time limit on objection to ballot titles.
The court ruled that the ballot language combined with the text of the ballot measure had adequately informed voters about what they were voting on.
“A ballot title may aid interpretation of the underlying measure. But we will not consult the ballot title when the meaning of the underlying measure is plain,” the decision read.
Seattle Weekly has reached out to representatives of EPIC and will update this story with their comments when it becomes available. The new detention facility has become a rallying point for anti-racist organizers who have worked for years to prevent the county from building it. Senait Brown, an activist with EPIC, has told Seattle Weekly in past coverage that the group wants to replace the current model of youth justice with community-led alternatives and restorative justice.