Tim Eyman (AP File/Elaine Thompson)

Tim Eyman (AP File/Elaine Thompson)

Eyman gets too few signatures for another $30 car-tab vote

The prolific statewide-initiative backer says there wasn’t enough money to pay signature-gatherers.

EVERETT — A Tim Eyman-backed initiative to once again reduce car tab fees has failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“Despite months of hard work and effort by a lot of great people, I’m really disappointed to announce that we didn’t make it,” Eyman wrote in an update sent to his supporters Friday morning. “Even though bringing back our $30 car tabs has overwhelming public support … we didn’t collect the 350,000 signatures needed to get our measure on the ballot. I know that this is heartbreaking news.

“We all know that if our $30 car tabs initiative had qualified for a vote, it would’ve been overwhelmingly approved by the voters across the state, especially in the Puget Sound,” he wrote.

Over the years, most of Eyman’s initiatives have reached the ballot.

He spoke with confidence in July about the odds of his latest measure — Initiative 947. The initiative to the Legislature would have allowed state lawmakers to approve the measure or leave it up to voters. The Legislature failed earlier this year to come up with a compromise bill on the car tab fees. Had that happened again in 2018, the measure could have appeared on the November 2018 ballot.

Eyman, of Mukilteo, figured car owners in the Puget Sound region were smarting after voters agreed to pay a series of tax increases to pass Sound Transit 3 in 2016. The $54 billion project calls for adding 62 miles of new Link light rail, eventually including an extension to Everett Station, via the Paine Field industrial area.

Eyman blamed the inability to collect enough signatures on finances. “Why didn’t we make it this time? It boils down to money — we just didn’t raise enough funds to hire paid petitioners to supplement our volunteers,” he wrote. “Getting 350,000 sigs in a handful of months is hugely difficult even when the initiative’s policy is super popular.”

Under the ballot measure, the motor vehicle excise tax rate rose from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent, the sales tax went up a half-percent in the taxing district and there’s a first-ever property tax assessment collected by Sound Transit.

The near quadrupling of the excise tax rate resulted in some vehicle owners paying hundreds of dollars more for their tabs. Part of the reason is Sound Transit uses a 1990s depreciation schedule that overvalues vehicles. The Legislature updated it in 2006 to better reflect the actual values of vehicles as they age. But a 2015 law enables Sound Transit to keep using the older method until 2028, when bonds sold in the earlier phases of expansion are retired. That’s also when the previously existing 0.3 percent rate expires.

Eyman said Initiative 947 would have erased all car tab fees imposed by Sound Transit. It also would have dropped weight fees imposed by the state and vehicle fees charged by cities for what are known as Transportation Benefit Districts to pay for extra road work.

The initiative would have required that vehicle taxes be based on Kelley Blue Book value.

Twice before, through Initiatives 695 and 776, Washington’s voters approved the $30 car tab fees. Those costs have risen over time through increased fees tacked on at the state and local levels. The ST3 vote affected car owners within the Sound Transit taxing district, which includes much of Snohomish County.

Eyman said everyone in the state should get a flat $30 annual fee to license their vehicle because they already pay a lot in sales tax when they buy a car and in gas taxes when they use their car. High car tab fees are a third bite at the apple, he said in July.

The professional initiative promoter already is on to his next anti-tax crusade: an initiative “to ban all income taxes for all time.”

“ ‘We Don’t Want An Income Tax’ is gonna be one of the most important initiatives we’ve ever done,” Eyman wrote. “We’ve been organizing for the initiative for weeks and will be able to hit the ground running in January.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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