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Decoding the lengthy saga to lower state car tab fees

(MyNorthwest photo)

Expensive car tab fees have been a hot-button issue for those in the Puget Sound region, and now, three separate bills aim to address it in different ways.

RELATED: GOP lawmaker eyes cheaper car tabs, Sound Transit reform

In case you’re losing track of all the various car tab-related bills, here’s what’s going on in Olympia:

#1: Eyman’s $30 car tabs

First, we have the simple, $30 flat rate car tabs initiative drafted by local activist Tim Eyman.

Eyman, recently accused of stealing a chair from Office Depot, has collected enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot that puts $30 car tabs into effect statewide. Before it goes to the ballot, the state Legislature has the chance to vote to approve it, do nothing and send it to the ballot as is, or write an alternative bill that will go to the ballot along with Eyman’s initiative.

“If we don’t do our job as elected leaders to provide real relief, the people will for the initiative process,” Sen. O’Ban told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “In some ways it’s exactly what a leaderless Legislature deserves: To have an initiative that would have traumatic consequences not just for the Sound Transit, but also for local governments and the way they pay for roads.”

#2: Sen. Steve O’Ban’s 55 percent cut to car tabs

Meanwhile, O’Ban has a bill of his own that would mete out car tab rates based on Kelly Blue Book value, effectively slashing prices by 55 percent. O’Ban has proposed a bill similar to this in each of the last three years to no avail.

O’Ban — a longtime critic of Sound Transit — also has a proposal that would require the Sound Transit board to be directly elected rather than appointed, and an additional bill that would trigger a public vote to continue ST3 work should Sound Transit go over-budget.

A large cut to car tabs taxes would put a sizable dent in Sound Transit’s budget for light rail and bus expansion in the Puget Sound region. Still, some have criticized the original ballot initiative that raised tab fees in the first place as deceptive to voters.

“(State Democrats) have misled the Legislature and I believe in they misled voters, particularly the way they calculate the car tab tax,” said O’Ban. “They’re using an old, rejected schedule — in fact it was rejected by the voters twice for being so unfair — and they resurrected it again. That’s the one they’re basing their tax on.”

That original initiative was passed by 54 percent of voters in 2016, resulting in car tab taxes that were over three times the original rate for Puget Sound drivers. That money in turn has been used to fund a large-scale expansion of public transit.

For calculating car tab renewal fees, Sound Transit uses a valuation system from the 1990s that ascribes massive value to cars, and in turn, issues equally massive tab fees.

#3: Rep. Pellicciotti’s more modest car tab proposal

A third bill in the state House sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mike Pellicciotti would lower tab fees for cars newer than 10 years old, and registered inside of the Sound Transit service area. In a Democrat-controlled state Legislature, this bill is the one most likely to pass of the three.

Even as a more modest package, Pellicciotti’s proposal still slashes the budget for ST3 by billions of dollars, and could potentially lead to the delay or cancellation of light rail, bus, and commuter rail expansion projects.

Pellicciotti attempted to move an identical bill through the Legislature in 2018. It was approved by the state House, but eventually died in the Senate.

RELATED: Sound Transit lawsuit kicks off over ST3 car tab fees

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