State Senate passes, sends House a bill to lessen car tab taxes for Sound Transit

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington state Senate passed a measure Thursday aiming to relieve concerns over the recent car-tab fee increase for Sound Transit 3, a nearly $54 billion initiative voters approved in November.

Widespread outrage over the formula used to calculate car tab fees — which are based on a depreciation schedule that overvalues newer cars in parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — has prompted a bipartisan, bicameral response.

Numerous bills have been introduced in the House and Senate in response. Senate Bill 5893 passed would require Sound Transit to improve the accuracy of the valuation formula by determining it based on Kelley Blue Book values or National Automobile Dealers Association values, whichever is lower.

The measure passed on a 25-24 vote Thursday and now heads to the House for consideration.

"This bill is about reigning in an arrogant and unaccountable agency (Sound Transit)," said Republican Sen. Steve O'Ban, sponsor of the bill. "It went for a car-tax increase almost threefold of what it had been previously."

O'Ban said the bill offers comprehensive relief for taxpayers and districts.

About half of the light rail project's budget relies on taxpayer dollars from increased car-tab fees, sales taxes and property taxes. Already, sales tax rates are past 10 percent in Seattle, Tacoma and Snohomish County.

Democratic Sen. Marko Liias voted in opposition to the bill.

"Sound Transit didn't raise taxes, the voters did," Liias said. He added that 700,000 people voted for the project because the region is "choking and drowning in traffic."

Under these new changes, Sound Transit has promised to deliver seven light-rail extensions in Everett, Redmond, South Kirkland, Issaquah, Tacoma, West Seattle and Ballard. According to the project website, major mass transit extension projects can take up to 25 years to complete.

Supporters of the rail system say it will help reduce the amount of traffic on roadways as the state's population continues to grow.

According to a 2016 U.S. Census bureau report, Washington state's population has increased by 8.4 percent since 2010. The Office of Financial Management also estimates over the past five years the state population has increased by an average of about 75,000 people annually.

"If we don't build this system we are going to drown," said Gov. Jay Inslee at a news conference Thursday. "This traffic is going to stop the growth of our economy, it's going to make it impossible for us to drive our kids to soccer practice and you can't ignore this problem, or it will get much worse."

The Senate also unanimously passed the transportation budget Thursday which awaits action in the House.