Showdown over $30 car tabs in heated Everett debate
Were voters duped into approving a “dishonest tax” by Sound Transit and the Legislature in the 2016 light rail expansion known as ST3? Or did King and Snohomish County voters know they were approving a tax that used an outdated vehicle valuation system that would cause car tabs to jump triple digits, and do it for the greater good – transportation infrastructure?
Side note: Pierce County also voted on ST3, but it was ultimately voted down in that county.
The issue of ST3 was just one of the controversial topics tackled in a heated Thursday night debate on I-976 in Everett, hosted by the Everett Herald.
“The valuation system that we have is so fraudulent that the voters voted against it and repealed it in 1999,” said Tim Eyman at the start of the debate.
Eyman is spearheading the I-976 campaign, which would set all car tab fees at $30. He is further challenging city and state officials to answer the question of whether ST3 was a dishonest tax.
“They repealed (that old vehicle evaluation system) again in 2002, yet like a character in the TV show Walking Dead, it’s just basically resurrected itself and it’s the same valuation system that the voters have twice voted against, and for the last two and a half years our elected officials haven’t done anything about it,” he said.
“You already pay a huge sales tax when you buy that vehicle, you’re already paying one of the highest gas taxes in the nation when you use the vehicle,” Eyman said. “It’s simply not fair for them to triple tax us on a dishonest tax.”
State Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs came back with the laundry list of impacts to transportation should I-976 pass. He argues that there would be a $300-400 million hit to the transportation budget, and a $700 million hit to Sound Transit annually.
“We’re not even talking about defeasement of bonds and the penalties you have to pay, so it’s more than that,” Hobbs said. “And the $60 million affecting our communities across the state from Wapato to Yakima to Granite Falls — Transportation Benefit Districts that benefit their communities, that they decided on their own.”
Hobbs said that more than 60 cities across Washington use local car tab fees to fund road maintenance and other needs not covered by the state. He stressed that tough decisions would have to be made should voters approve the $30 car tab measure.
“What we’re going to have to do is triage, and figure out what is more important,” Hobbs said.
“Is it preservation maintenance? Is it certain road projects? So it’s going to be Hunger Games style, and agencies are going to have to try and defend their agency, but the problem is things will fall through, projects will not go forward, some bridges will not be maintained, transit will be cut and these are huge problems across the state,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs told the panel that one of the things about Eyman’s initiative he was most upset by was that it was an attack on democracy – through our elections.
“Seven-hundred thousand people decided in 2016 to invest in transportation infrastructure – that happened in three counties – you can’t be any clearer than that – it was decided by the voters,” Hobbs said pointing to the approval of ST3.
But Eyman took issue with that.
“I would really challenge – is it actually a vote if they lie to you in order to get the vote?” Eyman said, again asserting voters were duped into approving the high car tabs that came with ST3.
“We were told that it was only going to be $80 extra in your car tabs, but when you’re getting the bill now and it’s $300, $500, $800, people are a little upset about that and I think it’s totally appropriate that when your government ends up lying to you to get a yes vote, it’s totally appropriate to go back to those voters and say now that you know the truth – now that you know how dishonest this tax is – do you think this is fair?” Eyman said.
Eyman also reiterated his position that the state has a $3.4 billion surplus it could use to cover any losses, but Hobbs said Eyman was wrong.
“I don’t know where this $3.4 billion comes from – I checked today it’s $1.7 billion it’s from the Rainy Day fund,” Hobbs said, pointing out that fund is used for emergencies like, floods, fires, a Mt. Saint Helens eruption or a major recession.
“So to think that we can take this money when there could be these disasters that could happen is absolutely ridiculous and something that we shouldn’t do – it is a reserve, it would be irresponsible,” he said.
On the claim that the ST3 tax was dishonest, Hobbs also disagreed.
“Sound Transit and several newspapers had a calculator out there that told you exactly what you were going to get. If you look at ST3 – the funding there and look at the average increase – it was a hundred dollars,” Hobbs said.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin – also took part in this debate and spoke about the impact to her city of I-976 passing.
“It would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs of people that live in our city, eliminate our Transportation Benefit District fund – a hundred percent of which goes to our maintenance of our streets,” Franklin said, adding that would just end up costing taxpayers more in the long run because of more required repairs to the roads and city vehicles due to damaged roads.
Franklin did admit the valuation system was not perfect.