Reeling from voter approval of I-976 and its “$30 car tabs,” Sound Transit leaders plan to ask state lawmakers to change how car tab values are calculated. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Reeling from voter approval of I-976 and its “$30 car tabs,” Sound Transit leaders plan to ask state lawmakers to change how car tab values are calculated. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Sound Transit to seek car-tab changes with more urgency

Board members will ask lawmakers to let them base assessments on the “true current value” of vehicles.

OLYMPIA — Sound Transit leaders plan to press state lawmakers in 2020 to change the law on how car tabs are calculated.

Acknowledging the frustration of voters expressed through Initiative 976, the board of directors of the regional transit authority agreed last week to ask legislators to ditch a two-decade-old depreciation schedule in favor of one that would base annual assessments on the “true current value” of a vehicle.

“I believe it is absolutely critical that this board take clearer action and direction to work with the Legislature to resolve this,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who pushed the other locally elected politicians to take a more activist position.

In previous years, board members voiced openness to rejiggering the motor vehicle excise tax formula if it didn’t impede the agency’s ability to carry out voter-approved expansion plans. The resolution passed last week conveys a greater urgency to get something done while still protecting the revenue stream.

Voters statewide passed Initiative 976 to lower car tab costs and erase the motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit. While it failed within the transit district, it did pass in portions of the district in Snohomish County.

“We know we have to look for solutions. We have to double down on our efforts,” said Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, one of three Snohomish County members on the Sound Transit board. “We hear the concerns about the valuation system but also know there is real concern to meet the timelines” for expanding light rail.

The leaders of the Senate and House transportation committees, however, aren’t sure anything can be done during the two-month legislative session that starts Jan. 13.

One reason is that they will be focused on the potential effects of Initiative 976, which, if upheld by courts, will reduce annual vehicle registration fees to $30 and carve a roughly $450 million hole in the state transportation budget.

“My first priority is dealing with the impacts to the state of that initiative,” said Rep. Jay Fey, D-Tacoma, who heads the House transportation panel. “I won’t say there isn’t a chance, but there isn’t a lot of time to work something out.”

Lawmakers failed to come up with solutions in each of the past three legislative sessions. Part of it was politics. And part of it was the difficulty of finding a revenue-neutral solution.

In 2018, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who heads the Senate transporation panel, came up with two possible solutions but couldn’t get either passed.

One idea would have redirected money to Sound Transit from an account established to support educational services for young people who are low-income, homeless or in foster care in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. It was empty then but it isn’t now.

When the House rejected that idea, Hobbs cobbled together a few ways to keep Sound Transit financially whole, including deferring payment to the state of some fees and and not charging Sound Transit for leasing right-of-way for construction of projects.

“I’m not hopeful. I’ve tried before and hit a brick wall,” Hobbs said Friday. “We can try again but I’ll probably run into a brick wall again.”

Anger with car tab costs stems from the 2016 passage of Sound Transit 3, a 25-year, $54 billion expansion.

It hiked the motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent. It also raised the local sales tax and established a new annual property tax within the transit district boundaries.

When the excise tax increase took effect in March 2017, the cost of car tabs surged and caught many vehicle owners unaware.

Frustration has grown as many learned that a contributing factor to the surge is Sound Transit’s use of a depreciation schedule from 1999 in its calculations. It overvalues newer vehicles.

That schedule is tied to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and shows a car’s value dips only 5% or 6% a year. The Department of Licensing updated its depreciation schedule in 2006. It shows a car loses 19% of its value after one year, 55% after five years.

By law, Sound Transit must switch to the newer schedule in 2029, when bonds from the first two phases of expansion are retired.

Hobbs said he thinks “we should just go to the 2006 valuation” now and find ways to offset the thinner stream of revenue for Sound Transit.

Meanwhile, at last week’s Sound Transit board meeting, Dammeier first proposed the board support switching to use Kelley Blue Book values. Others, including Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, voiced concerns.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested “true current value,” which the board did not try to define.

“We have to work with the Legislature to fix this problem,” she said.

Dammeier agreed to the change. In the end, the resolution called for Sound Transit to work with lawmakers on solutions “to implement the public’s desire to base vehicle taxes on a vehicle’s true current value, in a revenue neutral manner.”

It passed unanimously.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Denise McKenzie, who has been a bartenders at Kuhnle’s Tavern for many years, works behind the bar on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 106 years, Kuhnle’s Tavern in Marysville is closing

Come say farewell Sunday from noon to midnight at the historic bar with five beers on tap and a 50-cent pay phone.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.