An initiative launched by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman would undo Sound Transit’s car-tab tax and set all car-tab taxes, statewide, at $30. Eyman’s initiative must collect 260,000 signatures by Dec. 29 to be sent to the Legislature.
Tim Eyman, the anti-tax crusader, announced Tuesday that he is launching an initiative to the Legislature to throw out Sound Transit’s car-tab taxes and tax every vehicle in Washington at a flat $30 rate.
Eyman’s initiative would also bar local transportation benefit district fees, which are used to fund local transportation projects. Currently, nearly 60 Washington cities and towns have such fees, which are normally $20, but range up to $80 in Seattle.
In the Sound Transit district, which includes parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, in addition to state and local car-tab fees, residents pay an annual tax of 1.1 percent of the value of their vehicle.
Eyman, who is facing a $2.1 million lawsuit from the state attorney general alleging that he misused campaign funds for personal expenses, said that his initiative would give voters in the region a chance at a “do over.”
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“I think voters are having a lot of buyers’ remorse,” he said, at a news conference Tuesday. “Now that you know how much these car tabs are going to cost, do you think this is fair?”
Sound Transit 3, which more than tripled the car-tab tax from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent, passed with 54 percent of the vote in November. ST3 plans to bring more than 60 miles of light rail to the region, along with expanded bus and commuter rail service, over the next 25 years, at a cost of $54 billion.
Voters in the Puget Sound region imposed car-tab, sales and property taxes on themselves to fund ST3, but Eyman’s initiative would give a say to voters across the state.
The reason for that, he said, is twofold.
One is practical: A statewide initiative is the only option because Sound Transit’s district stretches across three counties.
And two: Eyman said that the size of ST3 affects voters statewide even though it is paid for by voters within the district.
“When you’re dealing with $54 billion being spent on any one thing, that is having an impact on everyone in the state,” he said. “There’s only so much money available.”
Eyman said he would begin printing and mailing petitions and raising money this week.
Abigail Doerr, advocacy director for the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition, called Eyman’s initiative a “sideshow” and stressed that voters approved ST3 just last fall.
“People want a reliable option to get out of traffic and we have to move forward with that,” Doerr said. “At the end of the day, that’s how elections work.”
Eyman’s Initiative 947 requires nearly 260,000 signatures to be collected by Dec. 29. If he is able to achieve that number, the initiative would be sent to the Legislature, where it could be voted into law in 2018. If the Legislature declined to do that, the initiative would be placed on the statewide ballot at the next statewide general election.
Sound Transit said Tuesday the measure would cost the agency between $6.9 billion and $8.1 billion, not counting increased borrowing costs.
Public outcry over the increase in car-tab taxes, and the inflated car-value formula that Sound Transit uses to calculate those taxes, led both the Democratic-controlled state House and the Republican-controlled state Senate to pass bills scaling back some of the tax increase.
But the parties couldn’t agree on how big the tax cut should be, with Republicans wanting to aggressively roll back the voter-passed car-tab tax increase, while Democrats proposed just fixing the inflated formula. (Sound Transit inherited the formula from the Legislature and it is not new, although the higher tax rate brought it new scrutiny.)
And while the Legislature is still technically in session, a car-tab change was not part of the budget deal passed last month and further action on the issue is unlikely.
Eyman’s long, checkered career as an anti-tax crusader got its start with car tabs. In 1999, voters passed his Initiative 695, which scrapped the state’s 2.2 percent car-tab tax and replaced it with a $30 flat fee. Courts ultimately ruled I-695 unconstitutional, but the Legislature got the message and enacted the change anyway.
At that point, there was no statewide tax based on a car’s value, but Sound Transit continued to collect a 0.3 percent tax within its taxing district.
In 2002, voters statewide passed another Eyman initiative, I-776, that repealed Sound Transit’s car-tab tax and replaced it with a $30 fee. But because Sound Transit had already sold bonds based on its tax — and the state constitution bars laws from “impairing the obligations of contracts” — the state Supreme Court ruled that Sound Transit could continue to collect the tax until its bonds were paid off in 2028.
Sound Transit has already sold bonds for ST3, but Eyman’s new initiative, if passed, would require the agency to refinance or retire those bonds so that it could cut car-tab taxes.