The controversy over increased car-tab fees caused by the passage of Sound Transit Three has now made its way to the state capitol.
Two bills introduced in Olympia could bring drivers and taxpayers some relief.
Senate Bill 5817 would give individual cities and counties the right to opt out of ST3 by nullifying the imposition of certain taxes within regional transit authority boundaries.
"They'd just have to bring it before the city council and have a majority vote and they're out, it's pretty simple," said Senator Dino Rossi.
The 45th District senator is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5817. He felt it was necessary to give local municipalities the right to opt out of taxes imposed by Sound Transit Three, especially if elected officials in those cities and counties feel their communities won't benefit from the expanded transit service that ST3 is supposed to pay for.
Pierce County, for instance, rejected ST3 last November. Yet since voters in King County and Snohomish County approved the measure, Pierce County voters within the Sound Transit District will still get hit with the tax increase.
Rossi said the same is true in other areas as well.
"I live in Sammamish, and we get billed for ST3, and we're probably going to get a park and ride when I'm in a nursing home, that's about it," said Rossi.
He's also proposing Senate Bill 5851, which seeks to address the way that Sound Transit and the Department of Licensing currently calculate the taxable value of your vehicle.
KING 5 spoke to several drivers who questioned why Sound Transit uses the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) to determine a car's taxable value.
Rossi says he knows exactly why Sound Transit does it.
"It's a complete and total money grab. They're going to scoop up as much of our money as they possibly can," he said. "I think it's dishonest. Completely dishonest. To have a value that isn't market value, or even close to market value. Kelley Blue book, that's market value. National Automobile Dealers Association, that's market value. MSRP has never been market value and never will be."
Senate Bill 5851 states that for the purpose of determining a motor vehicle excise tax imposed by a regional transit authority, the value of a motor vehicle must be based on base model Kelley Blue Book values or National Automobile Dealers Association, whichever is lower.
"We're doing base model, and using two standard valuation systems for cars. It's just very simple. Everyone can understand that. It's not convoluted like Sound Transit wants it to be, so complicated that no one will figure it out and everyone will just pay the bill and suck it up," he said. "That's not going to happen."
Rossi is now working to get both bills before the Senate Transportation Committee. He says there are companion bills in the House as well.
"Whether the bill gets heard or not, we're not going to give up," he said. "There are things we can do."
As you can imagine, the folks at Sound Transit were less than thrilled about Rossi's two proposed bills.
Regarding Senate Bill 5817, Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick said ST3 is a much-needed investment in mass transit.
"It would undermine making these investments that are critical to our future and supported by voters if one jurisdiction can say we don't want to pay these taxes," said Patrick. "When people climb aboard a bus, no one asks them what city or county they live in."
He said it would be unfair for a city to nullify the tax while its residents still have access to public transportation services.
Regarding Senate Bill 5851, Patrick had an even stronger response.
"It would be unconstitutional," he said.
Patrick says that Sound Transit is obligated by bond holders to collect the motor vehicle excise tax under a very specific schedule, and that would be seriously impacted by any changes made to the way that Sound Transit determines vehicle values.
"We have a legal commitment to the bond holders saying the bonds would be paid back with interest," he said. "So if there is legislation changing the way in which taxes are collected, it would set up a situation where Sound Transit may not meet legal obligations to bond holders."
He says Rossi's bill is unconstitutional because the constitution respects obligations made to bond holders.
According to Sound Transit, 52 cities and three counties make up the Sound Transit District in which ST3 taxes are collected. The district is home to 40 percent of the state's population.
The increased car-tab fees are just one component of the tax hike put in place by ST3. It also includes increases in property and sales tax.