OLYMPIA, Wash. – State lawmakers are getting an earful about the price of Sound Transit 3 and its impact on car-tab fees. And they hope to provide some relief for drivers.
State senators in Olympia passed a bill Wednesday 29-20 that is aimed at ST3 accountability. Senate Bill 5001, sponsored by Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, allows voters to directly elect Sound Transit Board members.
Currently, Snohomish, Pierce, and King County executives appoint Sound Transit Board Members. O'Ban's bill divides up the Sound Transit area into 11 districts, and voters will elect board representatives from each district. Counties will be capped at five districts; each district will be roughly equal in population.
Two other bills sponsored by Sen. Dino Rossi, R-45th district, are aimed at easing the pain of the transit tax for drivers, by either introducing a new formula to calculate annual car tab fees or giving counties the option to opt out and remove themselves from Sound Transit's taxing jurisdiction.
ST3, a $54 billion transit package approved by voters in 2016, is a 25-year project which entails the expansion of light rail, commuter trains and express bus systems across the Puget Sound area - more specifically, in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. Constituents will pay for the transit package three ways: higher property taxes, sales tax, and annual car-tab fees.
While the majority of voters in King and Snohomish counties approved ST3 in November, those in Pierce did not. However, they're still obligated to pay the higher taxes and car-tab fees.
The new car-tab fees took effect March 1, but drivers across all three counties were already reeling from “sticker shock” by the increase.
"I got this about a week-and-a-half ago, so when I opened the bill and saw the increase amount, I was really shocked. My mouth dropped open," said driver Veronica Guillen, whose car tabs for her 2012 Toyota Sienna went from $90 to $267.
Right now, drivers in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties are paying car tab fees based on a somewhat complicated formula set by state law long before Sound Transit adopted Sound Move in 1996. (You can calculate your costs here)
That system will be replaced in 2028 by a second formula introduced in 2006, a decade before Sound Transit 3 (ST3) was passed. However, since Sound Transit sold bonds that wouldn’t expire for 30 years to fund Sound Move, the tax system for ST3 wouldn’t take effect for another 12 years.
Senator Dino Rossi is still pushing for Senate Bill 5851, which would introduce a formula that requires Sound Transit to use Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association to calculate the worth of a vehicle. A vote on the bill has yet to take place.
But even if it passed, it may not take effect for more than a decade unless lawmakers can find a way to change how it pays for the Sound Move bonds.