Addressing car-tab sticker shock from Sound Transit 3

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Skyrocketing car-tab fees are a cause of concern for many residents in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The hike in license plate tab fees, along with increases in sales taxes and property taxes, fund the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) project – a $54 billion proposal to expand the regional public transit system. It includes 62 miles of light rail extending into the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and West Seattle, and into the surrounding suburbs of Tacoma, Federal Way, Everett and Issaquah. Voters in these three counties collectively approved the ST3 ballot measure in November 2016; however, it only received 44 percent support in Pierce County and 51 percent support in Snohomish County.

When higher car-tab fees began arriving in mailboxes, Rep. Mark Harmsworth was one of the first state lawmakers to hear from outraged residents. One constituent, a military veteran who needed to renew his F-150 Ford truck tabs, sent a photo (pictured right) of his invoice to Harmsworth. It showed an ST3-related Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tax of $367 – a three-fold increase over the previous year.

Although Sound Transit convinced a majority of voters to approve ST3, many people were unaware the car-tab formula they planned to use would overvalue the worth of most vehicles. Instead of estimating vehicle values based on true market value guidelines like Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association, Sound Transit uses an inflated formula based on the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). That means vehicles are taxed at a much higher rate, with newer vehicles seeing the largest tax hikes. Sound Transit’s taxation method left many residents feeling duped, including the military veteran who called Harmsworth asking for help.

Harmsworth, along with several of his Republican colleagues, immediately went to work to find ways to bring relief to taxpayers. He proposed several measures during the 2017 session, one of which included a way to change how Sound Transit assesses vehicle values. While his proposals were blocked from passage by the majority party, Harmsworth has not given up. He will be working throughout the 2018 session to see reforms are put in place, including legislation ensuring ST3 car-tab fees are based on a formula that is fair to taxpayers.

For a comparison of Republican and Democratic approaches to the ongoing ST3 controversy, please visit: