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Orting fires shot across Sound Transit’s bow waiting for car tab lawsuit

$30 car tabs continue to cause controversy in Washington state. (MyNorthwest)

While the courts figure out what to do with $30 dollar car tab measure I-976, one Pierce County town is doing what it can to give drivers some relief.

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Orting residents overwhelmingly supported I-976, voting 65 percent in favor of $30 car tabs last November. The Orting City Council decided to honor that vote by eliminating its portion of the tab fees.

Since 2012, the city has added $20 to the tabs to pay for road maintenance. That fee is now gone. Orting Mayor Joshua Penner said this honors the voters, and it protects against whatever court decision might finally come out of this.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re paying this money back,” Mayor Penner said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re taking this money in and can’t utilize it for the road projects that we promised we would get done. We would rather have it in your pocket and not have it at all.”

Mayor Penner said it doesn’t make financial sense to keep collecting money that the courts might decide is unconstitutional.

“There’s just nobody that can read into that crystal ball,” he said. “In the meantime, every dollar that’s collected after January 1 when the initiative was supposed to go into effect, is potentially a dollar that has to be paid back.”

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Some might say that this is just a small town making a political statement, but Mayor Penner said that’s not what this is about. He called it good budgeting policy, and he hopes other cities look at this move carefully and consider this option.

“Where’s the best place for this money if we know we can’t spend it,” he asked other city councils to consider. “I hope they believe the best place for the money is in their citizen’s pockets.”

Orting only has about 8,500 residents, but the $20 tab fee generated $141,000 dollars last year. Mayor Penner said the city’s roads are in good shape, and they have some reserves should they need emergency work.

“Taking the citizens of Orting’s tab fee from $20 to $0 is not going to break our bank,” the mayor said. “It’s not going to completely redefine transportation funding across the state, but it does shift the conversation away from tab fees, which I think needs to happen. Tab fees have just become unsustainable.”

Mayor Penner said Orting residents likely pay about $1,500 a year to Sound Transit. That’s more than they pay for the local schools, local fire, and local police. And he said they get no benefit for it. That’s not an equitable way to fund transportation, in his mind.

All in all, he believes the city is doing right by its citizens.

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