It’s not $30 car tabs, but state Sen. Nobles’ bill offers much-needed relief

Feb 15, 2021, 8:31 AM | Updated: 2:11 pm
Car tabs, sound transit, No on I-976, license plate shortage...
Washington state is currently copting with a license plate shortage. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

As she fought to unseat longtime Republican State Senator Steve O’Ban for the 28th Legislative district senate seat, T’wina Nobles made one of her top priorities very clear.

“I want to see relief in my community around car tabs,” Nobles said in an interview before the election.

“We have community members finding themselves choosing between annual vehicle registration and other essential bills,” she added.

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Now, Nobles is making good on that promise by introducing a new car tab relief proposal in SB 5448. It’s not the $30 car tabs many in the state voted for in I-976, but the bill will offer some much-needed relief while ensuring vital transportation investments continue.

“I’m very excited about my car tab payment plan bill because it will allow community members who pay over $150 to make payments toward their tabs renewal,” she said.

Under the proposed bill, drivers would be able to split their car tab bill into four quarterly payments, as long as their bills were at least $150.

“I’m excited also because this will help a lot of middle-class community members, which we know there aren’t a lot of financial relief programs for middle-class community members, and a lot of us associate relief and financial support with basically always being a low-income issue,” Nobles said.

This bill would help regardless of income.

Unlike the long line of previously introduced, but failed, car tab relief bills, this bill is not just relief for those in the Sound Transit taxing district.

“I made the decision to allow this to apply to everyone across the state, and not just folks who are in those transit districts. So anyone can take advantage of this option,” Nobles explained.

Nobles says she knows some drivers want to see big reductions in the actual bills for their car tabs, but that doesn’t represent all people in the community, since there are many who want to see the expanded transportation that Sound Transit taxes invest in.

So a compromise, she believes, will have a lot of community support.

“I spent time asking the question, an initial listening session with community members, I also spent time doing a poll on Instagram, which I know may seem different, nontraditional, it may seem silly, but it was actually really informative,” she said. “And I asked a variety of community members about this.”

Nobles says she asked for input even before crafting the bill, which she initially planned to introduce next year but bumped up due to the possibility of a transportation package passing this session.

“I took time to listen to the community, and I had several meetings with Department of Licensing. I have not spoken to Sound Transit, but I believe DOL has, and I anticipate they will be supportive,” Nobles said.

She also noted that she had heard about the string of more significant relief bills her predecessor and others had introduced. The difference between all of those bills and this one, she hopes, is that this bill may actually have the right formula to move across the finish line.

“I believe this is possible,” Nobles said. “I believe that’s why staff have worked with me for five weeks to think about the options and to provide the best package forward. I mean, [the] community really sent a lot of input. We asked a lot of great questions, and I really have had so many meetings.”

“So I feel good about it,” she continued. “I feel like the right stakeholders, who want to be a part of the process, were included, and I think this has a really good path. I feel very optimistic.”

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While it won’t reduce your overall car tab bill, Nobles says having the option to break down a $500 car tab bill into four payments of $125 would offer significant help for many people she heard from.

The proposal does include a 4% convenience fee that Nobles understands gives people pause, because why would a bill that is supposed to be offering financial relief for taxpayers actually add a fee?

Here’s why:

“Processing more payments means more labor time, more resources, so there is a cost, and it’s a one-time 4% fee — it’s not 4% every single payment, it’s just 4% added to the total,” she explained. “So if you pay $200, that’s $8 added, and it’ll be split among four payments. So a $52 payment.”

“Community can decide what works for them,” Nobles said.

The freshman senator is so excited about the possibility of actually getting car tab relief to everyone in the state, while preserving much needed transportation investment dollars that she posted a video to social media to share that excitement.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 18, in the Senate Transportation Committee. The committee chair, Democratic Senator Steve Hobbs, is among the lawmakers signed on in support of the bill.

Nobles encourages anyone with feedback to email her directly with their input here, and encourages those who support the car tabs relief bill to register to speak up to an hour before Thursday’s public hearing, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Written testimony can be offered up to 24 hours after the hearing.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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It’s not $30 car tabs, but state Sen. Nobles’ bill offers much-needed relief