Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now entering into the last few weeks of the regularly scheduled session. The operating, capital and transportation budget proposals have been introduced by both chambers, and negotiations are taking place in earnest on several key issues and bills.
Sound Transit 3 update (ST3)
My office has been flooded with calls and emails from people with sticker shock as much higher car tab bills land in their mailboxes. ST3's massive $54 billion measure was approved by voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties last November. Tax increases for sales tax (increased to 1.4 percent), property tax ($25 per $100,000 home value, including commercial property) and car tabs ($110 per $10,000 vehicle value) started in January.
Although Proposition 1 (Sound Transit/ST3) failed in Pierce County (44.3 percent), and was only narrowly approved in Snohomish County (51 percent), the voting numbers in King County tipped the difference in favor of the measure. Projects funded in ST3 include light rail, bus and park-and-ride projects over the next 25 years.
ST3's tax increases are now added on top of the taxes residents are still paying for ST1 (86 percent over budget – projected to be complete in 2021) and ST2 (projected to be complete in 2023).
Motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) increases
Car tab increases due to ST3 have more than tripled the existing fees in place from ST1 and ST2. As you may be aware, Sound Transit currently uses an inflated formula based on the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) to calculate a vehicle's taxable value.
I've sponsored two measures about this issue. The first, would tie the formula to the Kelley Blue book value of a vehicle (versus the MSRP currently being used by Sound Transit). A second bill I've recently introduced, would prevent the Department of Licensing (DOL) from collecting car-tab fees based on the MSRP. House Bill 2168 would only authorize the transit's contract with the Department of Licensing for the collection of car-tab fees if the tax was based solely on the Kelley Blue Book value, or national automobile dealers association values, whichever is lower. The Senate version of this bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee this week.
What to do if you've been charged too much for vehicle license fees
For some residents the MSRP based formula used to calculate their fees is not only high, it's inaccurate. The Department of Licensing is now reviewing the system after inaccurate MSRP figures were used to determine car-tab fees for thousands of vehicle owners. If you believe you are being charged too much for your car-tab's there is help available. Read my statement on what you can do to appeal erroneous license fees.
Taxation without representation
Currently, Sound Transit board members are appointed by county executives in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Given Sound Transit's significant taxing authority and responsibility for large infrastructure projects, they need to be directly accountable to taxpayers.
House Bill 1029 would divide Sound Transit's service area into 19 districts, equal in population, and end political appointments to the Sound Transit Board. One director would be elected from each district, and all directors would be barred from holding any other political office. Sen. Steve O'Ban has sponsored the Senate companion, Senate Bill 5001.
Sound Transit's tax district splits some properties
Some homeowners, who were not even given the opportunity to vote on ST3, are being forced to pay Sound Transit's higher taxes – even though only part of their property sits in the Sound Transit District. House Bill 1958 would stop Sound Transit from imposing property taxes on anything less than a whole parcel. The bill passed out of the House Transportation Committee, but is still waiting for a vote by the full chamber. Read more about why this bill is still on hold.
There is no local control for cities or their residents.
I've introduced a bill that would allow local governments to opt out of paying any of the ST3 tax increases. Another bill I've sponsored would allow counties and cities to exempt their residents from the ST3 property tax increases. Both of these measures have Senate companion bills (Senate Bill 5817 and Senate Bill 5854).
As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and concerns. If you have an idea for how state government can work better, please contact me. My door is always open. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call my office at (360) 786-7892.