Car Tabs are so expensive the legislature might fund a government payment plan

By MARK HARMSWORTH  | 
Apr 7, 2021
BLOG

Senate Bill 5448, introduced by Senator T’Wina Nobles (D - 28th District), would create a payment plan for those who are unable to pay for the inflated car tabs that Sound Transit has assessed car owners in the Sound Transit Transportation Benefit District to fund the ST3 light rail expansion.

Voters passed the Sound Transit ballot measure, ST3, in November 2016. Subsequently, lawsuits were filed, and a voters initiative passed (I-976), repealing the high car tab taxes and challenging the car valuation formula Sound Transit used for the tax measure. The repeal by initiative was eventually ruled invalid by the Washington Supreme Court and never took effect. Most car owners in the Puget Sound area saw triple digit increases in car tab taxes.

Lawmakers have realized that tabs have become unaffordable for many drivers but rather than take the approach of Nobles’ predecessor, Senator Steve O’Ban (R) to reduce car tab taxes to solve the problem, Senate Bill 5448 creates a payment plan. It would create four equal payments, paid during the year the tabs are due as long as the original car tab was over $150.

Additionally, making the already high-priced car tabs even more unaffordable, the bill would add an another 4% transaction fee to the payment plan, exasperating the problem for those who can’t afford to pay.

SB 5448 creates an additional $8.8 million in costs for the state to administer the program and doesn’t address the issue of non-payment during the year.

With the significant reduction in transit use and unlikely return to normal ridership levels in the near future, transit agencies should be re-evaluating expansion plans and reducing costs to reduce the car tab fees drivers are already paying, not creating new, government sponsored payment plans.

Former Senator O’Ban’s approach was correct, Sound Transit should be reducing car tab fees.

The bill has been placed in the Senate X files, the legislative ‘black-hole’ of bills, but is likely to see a re-introduction next session.