If Sound Transit doesn’t fix its unreasonable system of calculating vehicle taxes, the Legislature should step in.
SOUND Transit should quickly reconsider the formula it uses to tax vehicle owners.
As reported by Times reporter David Gutman, the agency uses a formula that inflates vehicle values, leading to higher car-tab taxes.
This is causing sticker shock for residents of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties facing big increases in their licensing fees as Sound Transit 3 taxes kick in this year.
Responding with more than a shrug is in Sound Transit’s best interest. Outrage over the fees and seemingly capricious valuation methodology is fostering resentment.
Coupled with brutal property-tax increases this year because of various tax measures and rising assessments that some are facing, this risks a taxpayer revolt such as Tim Eyman’s 1999 initiative demanding $30 state car tabs.
Eyman filed a follow-up measure with the Secretary of State’s office in January that would attempt to repeal licensing fees above $30 and create a new valuation schedule for Sound Transit. He and supporters are discussing whether to proceed and gather signatures.
State lawmakers are also responding to the Sound Transit angst with multiple proposals, including a bill the Senate passed Wednesday that would replace the agency’s current board of regional elected officials with directly elected commissioners.
More to the point, though, are bills requiring the agency to use a more reasonable system to calculate vehicle taxes.
Bills in the state House and Senate would require the agency to use Kelley Blue Book or National Automobile Dealers Association values, when calculating motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). Sponsors say this would better reflect market values, especially newer cars’ declines in value.
“There really needs to be some honesty in this,” said state Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 5851.
Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, is sponsoring the similar House Bill 2132.
Sound Transit’s official line is that its MVET taxes are locked in, because it already sold bonds that must be repaid by those taxes.
But adjustments to the valuation methodology should be possible, without jeopardizing Sound Transit’s credit rating or its ability to repay bonds. A spokesman for rating agency Moody’s said it recently upgraded the agency’s rating; any change related to the MVET would depend on what the Legislature does and how Sound Transit responds.
After meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, the agency’s chief executive, Peter Rogoff, said it’s considering changes to the methodology.
“If the law and our bond covenants and our financial projections allow us to take a fresh look at the valuation issue, working with the Legislature, we are happy to do that,” he said.
Please do so, promptly, and give the beleaguered people funding Sound Transit a more reasonable method of taxation. Otherwise the Legislature should make the fix.