The court said the advocacy group End the Prison Industrial Complex didn't meet the 10-day deadline to file an objection to a 2012 ballot measure to fund the youth jail.
The Washington state Supreme Court struck down a challenge by activists against a youth jail and courthouse that are under construction in Seattle, ending an attempt to cut funding to the project.
In the majority opinion signed by eight justices, with one abstention, the court said Thursday the group End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) failed to meet a 10-day deadline to file objections to ballot measures before they’re put to voters. The group sued the county over the measure to fund the King County youth courthouse and jail nearly four years after it was filed.
The ruling represents the latest blow to opponents of the $232 million youth jail and courthouse, who have called for the public money to instead be spent on alternatives to detention. County voters approved a $210 million levy to replace the King County Children and Family Justice Center in 2012, agreeing to property tax increases for nine years. The youth jail has faced hurdles ever since, as protesters have attempted to halt construction with appeals to county officials, human blockades and lawsuits.
In April 2016, EPIC sued the county, arguing the ballot measure contained flawed language that they say failed to inform voters property taxes would be collected for nine years to fund the new facility. EPIC said that the approved measure only authorized the county to collect taxes for only one year, an argument that was tossed out by the justices.
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“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,” Anthony Wright, director of Facilities Management for King County, said in an email. Construction has continued, and the new building is scheduled to open late next year, he added.
EPIC said the measure violated the state law governing property taxes by not explicitly telling voters that future tax increases would be calculated based on the 2013 levy. Instead, the initiative stated that future increases “would be subject to the limitations” of the law and also in accordance with a King County Council ordinance.
Since the measure and ordinance were publicly available in 2012, voters could have noticed then if the two differed, the court ruled. In that case, the language in the county ordinance would govern. The court found that the county ordinance clearly stated the levy would span nine years, with collection starting in 2013, and that the rate of future increases would be based on the 2013 levy amount.
The court ruled against EPIC’s argument that the 10-day timeline didn’t apply, upholding an earlier superior court ruling and reversing an appeals-court ruling from last year that found the activists’ claims were timely.
“If today’s decision stands, King County taxpayers will continue to pay millions of dollars in illegal taxes to fund a jail that we know is racist and counterproductive,” Claire Tonry, a lawyer for EPIC, said by email. The group “will be considering its options over the coming weeks,” she added, without elaborating.
Another lawsuit by EPIC was struck down in May by the state Court of Appeals, which said the group’s challenge to the county’s issuance of a master-permit for the project was filed too late.
While state law requires the county to have a youth-detention center, King County Executive Dow Constantine has publicly committed to a goal of zero youth detention, which has garnered criticism from both sides of the youth-jail debate.