Tim Eyman’s latest $30 car tab initiative will impact more than just Sound Transit projects. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Tim Eyman’s latest $30 car tab initiative will impact more than just Sound Transit projects. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Cities will suffer if voters approve $30 car tabs

Many communities use the licensing fees to pave and maintain streets.

In November, voters will get another chance to reduce their car tab fees. Anti-taxer Tim Eyman’s latest initiative takes aim at Sound Transit but, if it passes, will have impacts closer to home.

Car tab fees are a major source of funding used by many Snohomish County cities to pay for local road projects. Initiative 976 would reduce car tabs to $30, eliminating fees charged by cities through transportation benefit districts.

This would affect Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Lake Stevens formed a transportation benefit district this year but has yet to fund it.

Across the state, local transportation benefit districts would lose $125 million over the next two years if Eyman’s latest push passes, according to a fiscal note compiled by Senate staff.

“From my perspective, $20 a year is a small price to pay to ensure that potholes are repaired in a timely manner, roads are being paved and preserved for longevity, snow plows are keeping the streets clear when needed, and safe sidewalks are being constructed and maintained for pedestrian safety in our community,” said Brent Kirk, city manager for Granite Falls, in an email.

Car tab fees, which in 2018 brought in $77,000, account for about a third of the Granite Falls street fund, he said.

“There is no other revenue option available, which is why the transportation benefit districts were created in the first place,” Kirk said.

In Everett, council members tacked on a $20 charge for vehicle registration in 2015. Last year, the fee brought in $1.5 million, making up about 41 percent of the city’s paving and maintenance budget, according tos Everett spokesman Kari Goepfert.

“Without that revenue, the city would have to reduce its street maintenance program,” Goepfert said in an email.

Lynnwood would lose about $1.2 million for road projects if Eyman is successful. And in Edmonds, about a third of funding for roads would disappear.

People don’t expect their streets to be any less maintained, said Phil Williams, director of public works in Edmonds.

“What do you quit doing?” he asked.

Eyman defended his initiative this week before legislators this week during public hearings in both the House and Senate Transportation committees.

“It would be devastating,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, on Thursday. “It’s a big deal.”

Hobbs chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

If this revenue stream were to cease, it would decrease funding to the Washington State Patrol by about $30 million, Hobbs said.

In 1999 and 2002, Eyman’s $30 car tab initiatives were passed by voters, but both were later overturned in the courts. He tried again in 2017, but failed to garner enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

Got a question about Community Transit’s Swift Green Line set to open in March? Send them my way or any other you might have. Email me at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your name and city of residence.

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