Drivers would pay less for car tabs under bill passed by Senate

After the cost of car tabs increased in 2017 for many Puget Sound area drivers following passage of Sound Transit 3, the Washington State Senate today voted to reduce car tab costs. Sen. Joe Fain supported the measure, but said he would have preferred even greater tax relief for drivers.

“I’ve received thousands of comments from people seeing steep increases when renewing their car tabs,” said Fain, of Auburn, who previously served as vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “While I am a regular transit commuter, I’ve even heard from many voters who supported ST3 on the ballot but still felt misled by how their car’s value was determined. I still believe we could have provided more relief, but given the choice between nothing or modest savings, I chose to support this legislation that lowers taxes and addresses some of taxpayers’ concerns.”

Voters approved Sound Transit 3 in 2016, which increased the existing motor vehicle excise tax by 0.8 percent and increased sales, property and rental car taxes. The infrastructure package would expand light rail, bus rapid transit, Sounder commuter train service, through parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties that make up the Regional Transit Authority.

Sound Transit has been using an outdated method to determine vehicle values, which help determine the amount of taxes owed. While the state adopted a new depreciation schedule in 2006 that more accurately reflected car values, Sound Transit continued using the older inflated version.

The legislation establishes a market value adjustment program, within the 0.8 percent tax rate to provide a credit based on the difference between the outdated vehicle valuation schedule used by Sound Transit and the updated version used by the state. Drivers would also be eligible for a retroactive credit for the inflated costs paid before September 1, 2018.  

The average reduction for each registered automobile will vary on the value of the car. For example, the owner of a 2010 Nissan Altima would save $30 while the owner of a 2015 Acura RLX could save $140.

Fain supported several amendments to the bill that would have provided greater accountability to Sound Transit by making the board of directors directly elected by the voters, and a proposal that would have lowered a significant portion of the new property tax and car tab hikes that have shocked local residents over the past year. Those amendments were defeated along party lines.

The legislation was approved by a 30-14 margin and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration as lawmakers near the end of the 2018 legislative session.