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Washington’s car tab relief likely to play out on ballot

$30 car tabs are once again on the ballot in Washington. (MyNorthwest photo)

It appears legislative efforts to get drivers relief from high car tab bills that came with ST3, the $54 billion light rail expansion that voters approved in 2016, has hit a wall again.

The higher-than-expected car tab bills are the result of Sound Transit using an outdated vehicle valuation system from the 1990s to calculate car tabs to pay for ST3 projects, rather than the more accurate 2006 schedule.

For the third straight session, a handful of bills to make changes to the method Sound Transit uses to calculate car tabs were introduced.

Three car tab proposals

A proposal from Republican Senator Steve O’Ban would have slashed the actual tax rate and required Sound Transit use a more accurate vehicle valuation system based on values from Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association, whichever is lower.

Another bill, from Democratic Rep. Mike Pelliciotti, would stop using the old inflated valuation system and calculate car tabs for vehicles up to 10 years old using the more accurate 2006 schedule.

A third bill, from Democratic Senator Patty Kuderer, would have allowed for similar changes to the valuation system for low-income drivers.

Now, with just two weeks left in the legislative session, it appears unlikely any car tab relief will come from the bills proposed by lawmakers. Both Senator O’Ban’s and Senator Kuderer’s bills are considered dead for the session. Rep. Pelliciotti’s bill was considered the more middle of the road option and most likely to pass, but it would need to get a transportation committee hearing this week and that appears out of reach.

“It is not looking likely that sufficient support will be coming for that,” Pelliciotti said. “It’s not dead, but it is not looking likely at this point.”

Tim Eyman’s car tab initiative

That leaves anti-tax activist Tim Eyman’s I-976 as the only real chance for car tab relief.

Eyman’s $30 car tab initiative is an initiative to the Legislature which allows lawmakers three options: approve it as is, do nothing and send it to voters, or offer an alternative to go to the ballot with I-976.

The Legislature has apparently decided to do nothing and send I-976 to the ballot alone. Multiple sources in Olympia confirm opponents are focusing all of their energy on defeating the initiative rather than offering an alternative.

Sound Transit has said any of the car tab relief proposals would have a negative impact on funding and delivery of ST3 projects, but that Eyman’s proposal would be the most damaging. Should Eyman’s initiative pass, the agency says it would cost Sound Transit roughly $20 billion dollars through the projected 2041 completion date for ST3 projects, leading to delays or all-out cancellations.

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