The rising cost of car-tab fees was one of the most talked about issues of the 2017 legislative session, prompting frustration among both drivers and lawmakers. However, legislative efforts to relieve that frustration fell short this session.
It all began when voters approved the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 tax package last fall. Sound Transit says the ST3 tax increases will pay to expand mass transit in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties with a range of light rail, commuter rail, and bus connections.
But when car-tab bills reflecting the tax increase started showing up in mailboxes, a lot of people were left feeling sticker shock.
Republican lawmakers allege that Sound Transit purposely mis-led both the public and the legislature on the cost and impact of ST3. They called for an investigation into the agency back in May.
The Senate Law & Justice Committee will hold that investigatory hearing on September 26 at Kent City Hall.
Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, considers the investigatory hearing an important step towards holding Sound Transit accountable.
"Voters are absolutely outraged, including people who told me they voted for ST3, but had no idea it was going to cost them this kind of money," said O'Ban. "We believe people were mis-led. That's the subject of our investigation."
During the 2017 legislative session, both Republicans and Democrats proposed bills aimed at lowering taxpayers' car-tab fees. But the legislative session came to a close last week with no car-tab fix in sight.
So what exactly happened? That depends on who you ask.
"I would've liked to have emerged from the end of the session with a comprehensive tax relief plan on the car-tabs issue. Let's face it, Sound Transit is a pretty powerful force. This is going to take more than one legislative session to bring about the kind of huge policy change we need. But we will. We'll get there," said O'Ban.
Yet House Democrats say Republicans in the Senate are to blame for the failure to pass a bill that would save taxpayers money on car-tabs.
"Well the bill we had in the House was actually supported by every Democrat and every Republican representing Sound Transit taxpayers," said Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way.
Pellicciotti's bill would've provided taxpayers relief from pricey car-tabs with a reimbursement or credit for some of the money they're being charged under ST3. Equally important, he says it would have kept voter-approved light rail projects on track and had bi-partisan support in the Democrat-controlled House.
"We sent it to the Senate, I expected them to pass it, and instead they blocked it and would not even give it a hearing," he said. "It was very disappointing."
O'Ban and other Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate felt Pellicciotti's proposed car-tab fix just didn't do enough.
"What people are outraged about is having to pay twice, three times, even four times more than what they paid last year, so our bill, the Senate bill, provided real comprehensive relief," said O'Ban. "It would've cut the car-tab tax in half."
The bad news: no compromise between the two parties means your car-tab fees won't be getting any cheaper any time soon.
Perhaps the one thing lawmakers can all agree on is that the issue will resurface during next year's legislative session.
"I'm going to reintroduce my bill as soon as I possibly can," said Pellicciotti. "It's still an issue, and still an issue for me, and until we get this right, good government demands we address this issue."
"So let's get it done in 2018. Let's give taxpayers what they really want," said O'Ban. "Some of the best legislation takes a couple sessions to get it done."