By Taylor McAvoy

By Taylor McAvoy

Lawmakers are now at odds over a Sound Transit car-tab fix

The Senate and House disagree over whether lost revenue from a lower fee should be offset right away.

A plan to provide a little financial relief for Sound Transit car tab payers was in peril Monday.

Most lawmakers in the House and Senate want to change how the motor vehicle excise tax is calculated and save owners of roughly 2.5 million vehicles a collective $780 million in payments to the regional transit authority in the next few years.

Majority Democrats in the Senate also think it’s critical to offset the loss of revenue to Sound Transit to keep its voter-approved expansion plans on track. But their House counterparts disagree and think the transit agency’s concerns don’t need to be resolved before the session’s scheduled end Thursday.

“I don’t think we have to decide by Thursday,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. House Democrats are focused on reducing the car license fee with a fairer valuation system and “we can deal with (Sound Transit) in the future when we know what the impacts are.

“If they want a bill to help provide fairness on car tabs, they have the means to do it,” she said, referring to the Senate. “It’s in their court.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, responded by saying if the state provides no offsetting aid, it is likely it will delay or derail projects such as extending light rail service to Everett and Tacoma.

“If you’re going to create a $780 million hole, all you will be doing is jeopardizing projects in Snohomish and Pierce County,” he said. “I don’t know how I can vote for something that takes away projects from Snohomish County.”

Sound Transit 3 passed in November 2016 on the strength of support in Snohomish and King counties. It was rejected by voters in Pierce County.

The plan calls for adding 62 miles of new Link light-rail line, including an extension to Everett Station by 2036, via the Paine Field industrial area. Other new light-rail destinations envisioned in ST3 include Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle, downtown Redmond, south Kirkland and Issaquah.

To pay for the upgrades, the sales tax went up half a percent within the district. There’s also a new property tax assessment of 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. And the tax rate for figuring car tab fees went from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent, resulting in a near trebling of costs for some vehicle owners.

As part of the package, lawmakers created the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account to ensure some of Sound Transit’s future sales tax payments on projects are spent in the transit district only on serving educational needs of young people who are low-income, homeless or in foster care.

The account is empty now. But over the next quarter century, it is expected to fill with $318 million for King County, $111 million for Pierce County and $89 million for Snohomish County.

The Senate passed a bill letting Sound Transit decide to use that money for projects if needed. If not, it would be spent as originally envisioned.

“We have to give them the flexibility,” Hobbs said. “We crafted a bill that cuts the car tabs and pays for projects.”

But on Saturday, the House Transportation Committee stripped that provision out of the bill then passed it. The slimmed-down version awaits action on the House floor. It is pretty much the same content as a car-tab reduction measure the House passed in January but never got a hearing in the Senate.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, who serves on the transportation panel, voted to rewrite the Senate bill.

“I want to see the projects done on time. I want to give consumers a reduction in their car tabs,” she said. “And I’d like to see the money back-filled but without using those education dollars because we would be taking it away from services for our must vulnerable students. There should be a way to do all three.

A solution can be found before session ends if the Senate doesn’t dig in too deep, she said.

“There are other ways to fund it,” she said. “I’m hoping they’ll be open to more options.”

A version of this story first ran in the Everett Herald. Jerry Cornfield can be reached at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dospueblos.

More in Northwest

VoteWA is a $9.5 million program that came online last May and is meant to unify all 39 county voting systems in the state into a single entity. Courtesy image
WA’s new voting system concerns county elections officials

VoteWA has run into some problems in recent months as the Aug. 6 primary election draws closer.

Courtesy photo
King County Sheriff’s Office has been giving ICE unredacted information

Both the office and jail have supplied the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

PSE’s battery storage project could help the clean energy roll-out

The tiny pilot project in Glacier could eventually be expanded.

‘Feedback loops’ of methane, CO2 echo environmental problem beyond Washington

University of Washington among researchers of climate change’s effects in global temperatures.

Climbers rescued after days on Rainier

Several rescue attempts went awry, thanks to bad weather and flying conditions.

Rick Steves to give $1 million yearly to stop climate change

“If we are in the travel business, we are contributing to the destruction of our environment,” he said.

Boeing says decision on new airplane will come this year

With the 737 Max crisis far from over, there was speculation that a 797 decision might be delayed.

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn sent a letter to the FBI asking for them to help investigate Allan Thomas (pictured), who is under investigation for stealing more than $400,000 of public funds and skirting election laws in an Enumclaw drainage district. Screenshot from King 5 report
King County Council requests report on special districts in wake of fraud allegations

Small, local special districts will face more scrutiny following Enumclaw drainage district case.

Cherry blossoms bloom in April at the Washington State Capitol. Photo by Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislature adjourns on time with new budget, more money for education

Total spending is $52.4 billion; includes levy lid lift for school districts and some tax increases.

Gov. Jay Inslee shakes hands with Dinah Griffey after signing Senate Bill 5649 on April 19. The law revises the statute of limitations for sex crimes. Photo by Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Hits and misses from Legislature’s 2019 session

New laws target vaccines, sex crimes and daylight savings; losers include sex ed and dwarf tossing bills.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to protesting nurses on April 24 at the State Capitol Building in Olympia. Inslee indicated he would sign the bill for meal and rest breaks into law if it passes both chambers. Photo by Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Lawmakers approve ‘nursing bill’ for mandatory meal and rest breaks

Nurses show up in Olympia to support bill, protest Sen. Walsh’s remarks.

Colton Harris-Moore, known as the “Barefoot Bandit,” as seen on a GoFundMe page where he sought to raise $125,000 for flight training. (GoFundMe)
‘Barefoot Bandit’ asks judge to shorten his supervised release

Colton Harris-Moore says travel restrictions are holding back a lucrative public-speaking career.