State Senate pushes its own car tab tax reduction measure

Proponents say it will bring relief to taxpayers and maintain transit funding.

Just in time to meet the cutoff deadline to move bills out of committees, the state Senate Transportation Committee passed a bill that would lower car tab taxes, matching similar efforts in the House.

The bill, SB 5955, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D–Bellevue, would require that the Puget Sound area’s Sound Transit agency adjust its vehicle valuation formula to better reflect a car’s actual market value when levying car tab taxes to pay for transportation projects.

Under the proposal, the agency’s current vehicle valuation formula—approved by the legislature in the 1990’s—would be updated to a 2006 version, and vehicle owners would be provided with retroactive credits if their car was overvalued.

In the state House, representatives passed a very similar bill, HB 2201, with bipartisan support, following complaints from lawmakers and some vehicle owners that Sound Transit’s dated car valuation system overvalued some cars, leading to much higher registration taxes.

The criticisms were prompted by a tax hike to fund a $54 billion transportation package that voters passed in 2016 by a wide margin in the Sound Transit taxing district. The district covers densely populated areas of Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties.

Sound Transit and transit advocates had criticized the legislation as undermining the agency’s ability to deliver mass-transit infrastructure—namely link light rail—in a timely manner due to an estimated $780 million direct loss in revenue resulting from the altered car valuation system. They called for funding offsets if car tab tax reform efforts go through.

Kuderer and other Democratic senators presented SB 5955 as a middle-of-the-road approach that both brings car owners tax relief and maintains funding for Sound Transit.

“With this legislation, we can balance reducing some of that burden while honoring the voters’ decision to use the revenue from the car tabs to fund public transportation,” Kuderer said at the Jan. 24 Senate Transportation Committee hearing on the bill.

In an effort to provide Sound Transit some funding offsets, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D–Lake Stevens, introduced a substitute version of Kuderer’s bill at the Feb. 6 meeting—where the altered bill was ultimately voted out of committee—that allows the agency to withhold payments into a regional education fund until its board passes a resolution stating that the payments won’t impact its ability to deliver the projects in its latest package.

“This is not the perfect bill,” Hobbs said at the Feb. 6 meeting, “but I think it is the best bill that meets both goals and objectives.”

“We want our projects to show up when we’re still alive,” he quipped, referencing the long project delivery timelines for Sound Transit’s latest link light rail projects. Hobbs also called the bill a “work in progress,” that will get tweaked later on in the legislative process.

However, many Senate Republicans—and some Democrats—argued that the bill didn’t go far enough in limiting Sound Transit’s taxing capabilities.

“This bill does not do much at all,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D–Potlatch. “We have to suck it up and start acting like legislators and have some oversight of this regional body.”

Longtime critic of Sound Transit, Sen. Steve O’Ban, R–University Place, criticized the new valuation system in Hobbs’ substitute bill as a legislatively “concocted schedule” that doesn’t reflect accurate market values.

“I wish I could vote for this bill,” he said. “I wish we could provide something that comes close to real tax relief.”

O’Ban attempted to attach several amendments that would’ve required that Sound Transit use Kelly Blue Book car values when giving out retroactive credit to vehicle owners and make $518 million in agency expenditure reductions. Another amendment would have eliminated the provision that Sound Transit wait until it passes a resolution before renewing its payments into the education fund. However, all his changes were voted down.

Geoff Patrick, a spokesperson for Sound Transit, said that while SB 5955 doesn’t cover the entire funding loss from the changed car valuation system, it is something. “It’s not a full offset, but it’s a partial offset and in that sense it’s positive,” he said.

He also said that, due to the substitute bill’s allowance that Sound Transit not pay into the education fund—the payments total around $518 million—that Sound Transit will ultimately pay less in debt-financing costs because the bonds the agency took out to finance projects will be repaid faster with the new revenue. The agency will pay roughly a billion dollars less in extra financing costs, according to Patrick.

The fund, known as the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account, pays for educational programming targeting low-income, homeless, and foster care youth at schools within the Sound Transit regional taxing district. It was attached to the transportation package that allowed Sound Transit to increase its taxing capacity that passed the legislature in 2015.

O’Ban explicitly criticized the use of the education dollars to cover the offset.

“I do not see Sound Transit as a vulnerable organization,” he said, adding that the agency should not be taking money from “those who need it more.”

Mostly Democrats voted for the bill, joined by Sen. Curtis King, R–Yakima. Those opposed came from both sides of the isle: Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D–Seattle, Sen. Maralyn Chase, D–Edmonds, Sen. Sheldon, Sen. Phil Fortunato, R–Auburn, Sen. O’Ban, and Sen. Hans Zeiger, R–Puyallup all voted against the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee where it has until Feb. 14 to get moved onto the floor for a vote.

More in News

Renton woman pleads guilty to fraudulent insurance claim

Stephanie Pepper Snider is ordered to repay State Farm more than $10,000.

A man addresses the King County Council during a public hearing March 20 at New Life Church in Renton. He presented bags filled with what he said was hazardous materials dropped on his property by bald eagles. Another speaker made similar claims. Haley Ausbun/staff photo
Locals show support for King County waste to energy plant

Public hearing on landfill’s future was held March 20 in Renton.

King County Council with Sarah Reyneveld, chair of the King County Women’s Advisory Board. Photo courtesy of King County
King County proclaims March as Women’s History Month

This year’s theme is Womxn Who Lead: Stories from the past and how they influence the future.

Photo by Haley Ausbun
                                The Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 were grounded in the U.S. last week after a second deadly crash in the last six months. There has been increased scrutiny on the safety of the planes, which are produced in Renton.
Boeing production lines in Renton to halt next week due to previous delays

Spokesperson for Boeing said the previously scheduled days will help with winter storm and supplier delays.

Detectives seek witnesses to fatal collision

The collision happened around 5:50 a.m. on Interstate 90 near state Route 18.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. The Maplewood golf course, where a former employee of the Pro Shop on site told state auditors he defrauded the city of thousands of dollars.
Stolen money reveals lack of oversight at Renton golf course

State auditor: City failed to create proper checks and balances at Maplewood Golf Course

Screenshot of b-roll of the Meggit Training System FATS 300LE, a five-screen simulator for police training that the Renton Police Department is considering for purchase. Courtesy of Meggitt.
Virtual training for Renton police possible in near future

The police presented their preferred choice of a five-screen training simulator at Committee of the Whole, March 11 with 300-degree display. It could be purchased some time this year, pending budget adjustment and council approval.

Courtesy of Renton School District
Three of the snow make-up days waived by the state

Renton schools posted on Tuesday that the three snow make-up days previously unscheduled are waived for students. Staff will still need to determine how to add those days.

After being homeless, Christy X (pictured) moved into her Coniston Arms Apartments unit in Seattle at the beginning of 2019. She had bounced around from shelters to friends’ places after facing an eviction at her West Seattle apartment in October 2018. A diversion program run by the nonprofit Mary’s Place helped her find housing. File photo
State lawmakers consider eviction reform legislation

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, is bill’s prime sponsor.

Most Read