Democrats Advance Bill That Would Force Sound Transit to Alter License Tax

Diminished revenue would result in cuts to commuter rail and parking structures.

OLYMPIA — A Democrat-drafted response to soaring Sound Transit car tabs passed out of a House committee Monday with backing of several Republican lawmakers.

The House Transportation Committee voted 20-5 to approve the bill forcing Sound Transit to change a key component in calculating its motor vehicle excise tax to lessen the financial hit from a voter-approved hike in the tax rate.

Under House Bill 2201, the regional transit authority must stop using a 2-decade-old depreciation schedule which overvalues vehicles and start using one adopted by the Legislature in 2006 which better reflects a car’s actual worth.

Sound Transit would give owners a credit for any extra they paid under the old method, or a refund if they’ve already spent money to renew their tabs. This approach would provide an estimated $780 million in rebates for car owners through 2028, according to Democratic lawmakers.

While this would reduce a stream of revenue on which Sound Transit depends for future expansions, Democrats said it won’t impair the transit agency’s ability to carry out the $54 billion worth of projects in the Sound Transit 3 plan as promised.

However, if the reduction in car tab revenue did threaten to delay projects, the House bill requires Sound Transit to spend less on parking structures and commuter rail to ensure planned light rail extensions stay on target.

“We can do this if we’re smart about this,” said Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, the bill’s sponsor. “We can do this and still carry out the will of the voters.”

In Monday’s committee hearing, Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, offered an amendment aimed at achieving what he called a “slightly more aggressive” approach to deliver greater relief to consumers.

His amendment sought to halve the excise tax rate, triple the credits and require Sound Transit to trim spending on light rail projects if it finds itself shy of revenue to carry out the entire Sound Transit 3 program. It was defeated on a party-line vote.

Harmsworth, the point man for House Republicans on this issue, did vote for the Democrat bill.

“We do believe the underlying bill does provide a small amount of relief. We’ll take what we can get at this point for our constituents,” Harmsworth said.

Afterwards Pellicciotti interpreted the lopsided vote as a sign the House is moving in the right direction on resolving a contentious issue.

“When you have a common sense solution to a problem that can sometimes bring together people from both parties,” he said.

In November, 54 percent of Sound Transit voters backed the massive three-pronged tax package to pay for the expansion. It included a new property tax, a sales tax hike and an 0.8 percent leap in the vehicle excise tax. As of March 1, the excise tax went for 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent.

This issue exploded in February as residents received their car tab renewal notices calculated with the increase and found themselves owing hundreds of dollars more than the year before.

From the outset, Republican lawmakers have demanded Sound Transit switch to using vehicle values in the Kelley Blue Book or from the National Auto Dealers Association, both of which they consider to be fairer than either of the state schedules.

The Republican-led Senate on April 6 passed a bill that requires use of a new valuation method, cuts the excise tax rate to 0.5 percent and makes Sound Transit begin paying for road improvements. It was approved on a party-line 25-24 vote.

Meanwhile, Democrats in both chambers initially resisted making Sound Transit change its ways out of concern any move could jeopardize the delivery of light rail to Everett and Tacoma, communities which have been paying into the system for two decades.

Now, Democratic leaders in both chambers agree Sound Transit should use the newer depreciation schedule and give owners a rebate.

“I think we’re right where we should be. This is a bill that actually solves the problem,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, referring to the House bill.

Republicans will continue “working to get a much stronger amendment passed” when the Pellicciotti bill reaches the House floor, said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish. A vote could come as early as Wednesday evening.

GOP members of the committee “did not think this was actually solving the problem. They said all it was providing was minuscule relief,” Kristiansen said, describing it as “10 cents on the dollar relief.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

More in News & Comment

What Becomes of Animal Rights Activists After the Action Is Over?

Peter Young and Justin Samuel helped launch a new era in the fight against fur. Then they went their separate ways.

Sound Publishing archives
State Gets an Earful on Legalizing Home-Grown Marijuana

Unique among the states that have legalized cannabis, Washington bans homegrows.

Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon on stage at Seattle U on September 12. Photo by Casey Jaywork
Moon Campaign Calls Out Big Corporations for Quietly Funding Durkan Campaign

Though both mayoral candidates have plans for supporting small businesses in Seattle.

Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván’s courtroom just after hearing arguments on the I-27 lawsuit on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. From left to right: Mark Cooke of the ACLU-WA; State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, serving as counsel to the defendants; Bothell City Council member and I-27 organizer Joshua Freed; Jeff Slayton, counsel from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office; court staff; and the brown-coated shoulder of Dr. Bob Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health Seattle/King County. Photo by Casey Jaywork
Judge Blocks I-27, Saves Supervised Consumption Sites

The ballot initiative would have prohibited supervised consumption sites (CHELs) throughout King County.

King County Executive Dow Constantine tells President Trump that he is “failing the American people” at the protest of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ trip to Bellevue on Friday. Nicole Jennings/staff photo
Betsy DeVos’ Bellevue Visit Draws Hundreds of Protestors

“You are failing the American people.”

Photo by Casey Jaywork
DOJ: Seattle Police Are Complying With Consent Decree

But Judge Robart could side with monitor Merrick Bobb, who has said SPD is not in full compliance.

Steve Fournier (with microphone) and Loverboy lead singer Mike Reno (in glasses) on stage at Xfinity Arena last Friday. (Diane Webb / YesterdazeNews.com)
Everybody’s Working For a Refund: Loverboy’s Concert in Everett Was a Flop, and Fans Want Their Money Back

Last month in Everett, the ailing lead singer left the stage and an audience member stepped in.

Trump Move Will Send Insurance Premiums Soaring in Washington

The state was prepared for Trump pulling the rug out from under Obamacare. But it’s not pretty.

Photo via Washington Convention Center
Sister’s Work Could Raise Conflict Issues for Jenny Durkan If Elected

T. Ryan Durkan has worked on projects ranging from the Convention Center to Sound Transit.

Most Read