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No car tab relief in Washington but workgroup will tackle challenges

(MyNorthwest photo)

For five years, drivers have been pleading for relief after being hit with out-of-control car tabs largely related to ST3, the $54 billion light rail expansion approved by voters in the Sound Transit taxing district.

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This legislative session, freshman Democratic Senator T’wina Nobles had the lone possibility for any car tab relief with SB 5448 and a proposal to allow quarterly payment plans on car tabs statewide, not just for those in the Sound Transit taxing district. But the bill stalled out last month.

It does seem there is a desire to explore the idea. The state Senate’s proposed transportation budget has set aside $250,000 to create a workgroup to take a deep dive into the possibility of a payment plan program for car tabs to provide relief to those struggling the most.

The budget calls on the Joint Transportation Committee to convene a vehicle registration payment workgroup to study and recommend new options for paying car tabs. That workgroup must be made up of community members, representatives from the Department of Licensing, county auditors and subagents, cities that impose a Transportation Benefit District fee and those that offer rebates on vehicle fees, vehicle owners who pay Sound Transit fees, and vehicle owners who pay the electric vehicle fees, as well as advocates for multimodal transportation options.

The plan also requires the workgroup to engage with members of the public who want a new payment option, including communities of color, low-income households, vulnerable populations, and displaced communities. The workgroup must use that public input to come up with its recommendations in its eventual report to the Legislature, which would be due at the end of June 2022, leaving even relief in the form of a payment plan model at least a couple of years away at best.

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It’s not exactly what Nobles had in mind, but she recognizes that it’s a good balance.

“Community members have had to make extremely difficult decisions because they cannot afford to pay the fees all at once,” Nobles said. “At the same time, they can’t afford to not pay the fees because they don’t want to risk driving with expired tabs to get to work, the grocery store, or a medical appointment. We also cannot forget that vehicle renewal fees fund critical community investments in transportation. This workgroup will allow us to get community input and work with affected parties on a balanced approach.”

It remains to be seen if the workgroup will actually become reality as final votes on the transportation budget are still pending.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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