By Pat Jenkins
The Legislature is taking a run at reducing car owners’ sticker shock over an increase of license tab fees to help pay for Sound Transit projects.
Senate Bill 5893, passed by the state Senate 25-24, would change the way of calculating higher car tabs that were approved by voters last November as part of Sound Transit’s $54 billion ST3 initiative. If the House of Representatives also gives its blessing, Sound Transit officials would use Kelley Blue Book or National Automobile Dealers Association valuations, whichever is lower, to reflect the fair market value of vehicles for assessing tab fees.
The formula that’s currently in use by Sound Transit uses vehicle values have caused fees for some car owners to triple, sparking complaints from the motoring public.
At the end of last week, the House hadn’t voted on SB 5893.
Senators who approved the new legislation include Randi Becker, who’s from the Eatonville area and the Second Legislative District that includes south Pierce County.
Another legislator from the south Pierce region, Rep. Christine Kilduff, is a leading advocate of “relief for future car tab fees.” Kilduff, whose 28th Legislative District includes some of the Graham and Spanaway areas, supports moves in the House to reduce the Sound Transit share of the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) and give MVET rebates to low-income vehicle owner.
Pierce County vehicle owners are being charged more for tabs even though the majority of voters in the county voted against ST3.
The ballot passed in last November’s general election because the overall vote in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties – the benefit area where Sound Transit has taxing authority – favored the proposal for a massive expansion of the agency’s mass-transit services. The opposition in Pierce County was over the projects’ total cost – an estimated $53 billion -- in relation to the amount and timeliness of improvements here. Pierce taxpayers are still on the hook, however, because the combined results of voting in the three counties determined whether ST3 passed or failed.
To pay for the ST3 projects, $27.7 billion would be financed with new or higher local taxes. They include a 0.8 percent increase of the MVET (tabs). That adds $80 a year for a $10,000 vehicle (more for higher-valued vehicles.
Other funding would come from a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent (which adds, for example, 50 cents to a $100 purchase) and a property tax increase of 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation (equivalent to $100 annually for a house assessed at $400,000).
Plans for ST3 call for increased capacity for the Sounder commuter train, 62 additional miles of light-rail service, and expanded bus routes. For Pierce County, the schedule for finishing projects includes light rail being extended to Tacoma after 2024. Other improvements for Pierce County would include two Sounder stations near Joint Base Lewis-McChord and express bus service for part of Tacoma and the eastern part of the county.
Before that, light rail would reach Seattle by 2021 and Sounder trains would begin traveling as far north as Lynnwood by 2023.