Sound Transit would still get an increase under my bill, but not at the cost of forcing taxpayers to get rid of their cars or cut back on their grocery budgets.
DESPITE claims to the contrary, light rail is not being “derailed,” “dismantled” or “re-litigated.” [“Fix the price of car tabs and limit the impact on ST3,” Opinion, May 12.] Instead, lawmakers are working to correct Sound Transit’s excesses and acknowledge that the taxpayers’ need for car-tab tax relief is being heard.
The car-tab tax cuts I sponsored, and the Senate passed, in Senate Bill 5893 would provide taxpayers with real relief while still leaving Sound Transit with 93 percent of the funds approved by ST3. Sound Transit will collect $50 billion instead of $54 billion.
Given that Sound Transit originally requested a $15 billion authorization and has substantial contingencies built in to its funding plans of 20 percent or more, there is absolutely no reason the agency can’t complete the projects it promised to voters. Even after my car tab tax cut, Sound Transit would still collect revenue from its new ST3 property tax and sales-tax increases.
Sound Transit inspired changes to my legislation. Originally, I sought to correct Sound Transit’s overvaluing of cars in their tax calculations. My bill was aimed at ensuring Sound Transit use the real market value for vehicles, determined by Kelley Blue Book. But when Sound Transit officials testified on my bill before the Senate Transportation Committee, it was asserted that angry taxpayers would not experience enough relief to make a difference — that the real “sticker shock” was coming from the near-quadrupling of the car-tab rate from .3 percent to 1.1 percent.
To ensure taxpayers would get real relief, I amended my bill to cut the Sound Transit car-tab tax to no higher than .5 percent. Sound Transit would still get an increase, but not at the cost of forcing taxpayers to get rid of their cars or cut back on their grocery budgets. The Senate passed my bill and sent it to the House, where it sat.
We continued to improve the bill during the first special legislative session. Through a public records request, we were able to identify that the majority of my bill’s estimated impact to Sound Transit could be eliminated if we did not require the bonds to be prematurely repaid but instead offered the car-tab tax reduction as a “credit.” We amended the bill and sent it to the House a second time.
The House leadership has failed to act, and shows little interest in real car-tab tax relief. Instead, it is continuing to rely on House Bill 2201 as a solution for “relief from unfair car-tab valuations,” “daily traffic jams” and “greater Sound Transit accountability.”
It fails on all three counts.
“Relief” found in the House Democrats’ plan would be what Sound Transit testimony described as almost too meager for taxpayers to notice. Worse, it is false relief. The House change in car-tab valuations relies on Sound Transit’s new tax on property, essentially raising one tax to pay for a reduction in the other. It’s like taking money from your right pocket to pay back your left pocket. That is not relief; it’s a shell game.
Nor does the House hold Sound Transit accountable to taxpayers. The House plan gives the appearance of action on car-tab tax relief without actually doing much. Real accountability would be elections for Sound Transit board members, which I’ve proposed (SB 5001), the Senate passed and the House ignored. (Sound Transit’s 18-member Board is made up of local elected officials and the secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation.)
Every month more people open their car-tab bills, and every month the number of people experiencing the sticker shock of skyrocketing car-tabs grows. Sound Transit could begin to rebuild its goodwill if it responded to taxpayers and embraced the Senate’s plan for meaningful car-tab tax relief.