Washington’s perennial anti-tax troll Tim Eyman is back, fresh off of his failure to hurl another initiative (I-1550) across the finish line and reeling from a $2 million state lawsuit against him for campaign violations. In his latest affront to state and local finances, Eyman is taking aim at car-related taxes and fees. The initiative’s impacts would be far reaching wiping out local options to fund street, road, and transit improvements, forcing the state to siphon general fund revenues to backfill administrative funding gaps, delaying badly needed repair, replacement, and maintenance of roads and highways, and virtually stopping Sound Transit 3 in its tracks.
Running on the same tired slogan of $30 car tabs, Eyman’s initiative would reduce vehicle registration fees to $30 for all motor vehicles under 10,000 pounds–including your snowmobile and commercial trailer hanging around in the garage.
Here’s just a few of the taxes and fees thag Eyman’s initiative would kill:
- A 0.3% sales tax on the selling price of a motor vehicle, which funds statewide transportation improvements;
- Local power to establish passenger-only ferry districts and fund it through a motor vehicle excise tax;
- Car tab fees up to $100 to fund local transportation investments in roads and public transportation, including operations, preservation, and maintenance; and
- A motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) within the Sound Transit taxing district, which funds Sound Transit 3 projects.
The latter two taxes and fees to be eliminated by the initiative should be very alarming to transit supporters.
The MVET is bankrolling transit expansion under Sound Transit 3. Without it, the expansion plan that voters passed in November would be cast into doubt. Sound Transit estimates that $6.9 billion to $8.1 billion in tax revenue would be lost if the MVET taxing authority were taken away. Those estimates, by the way, do not include other assumptions such as higher borrowing costs and other fiscal impacts, which Sound Transit is currently working to analyze. With lower revenues, the Sound Transit Board of Directors would have to determine which projects should be canceled or delayed. The effects would reach all subareas of the Sound Transit taxing district.
Eyman’s initiative does not entirely eliminate the MVET, but would limit revenue to paying-off, nullifying, or refinancing bonds that were already issued to support transit expansion projects, such as those in the original Sound Move plan. If passed, MVET money could not be used for any new Sound Transit 3 projects that haven’t already been bonded. Taxing authority through the MVET would be further limited to only the market value of a vehicle, as estimated in the Kelly Blue Book.
Eyman’s initiative would take a further stab at local transit and road improvements in Seattle by gutting the city’s local Transportation Benefit District (TBD). An $80 vehicle license fee is currently charged by the TBD. In 2010, the Seattle City Council instituted a $20 vehicle license fee for general transportation investments. Then in 2014, voters in Seattle authorized a $60 vehicle license fee in addition to a 0.1% sales tax to save and add bus service in the city. Though the initiative would not eliminate the 0.1% sales tax, repeal of the vehicle license fee would deny the TBD an immense amount of funding and leave it strapped for cash to deliver on promised transportation investments.
It’s not just Seattle that would feel the pain from Eyman’s initiative. Scores of cities and counties across the state have local vehicle license fees to support transportation investments, including deeply conservative and anti-tax places like Kittitas County, Orting, Roy, Prosser, and Wenatchee. Most jurisdictions that have a vehicle license fee top out at $20, but a few place like Des Moines, Lynnwood, Olympia, and Lake Forest Park have ratcheted up their fees to $40. Seattle stands on its own with the $80 vehicle license fee, just $20 shy of the $100 cap for TBDs
Eyman’s initiative fundamentally would thwart the will of local voters, giving voters in Spokane, Whatcom County, Port Angeles, and Pullman veto power over places like Anacortes, Buckley, and central Puget Sound to determine what taxes and fees they want to pay for local transportation investments.
The Eyman initiative also includes petty and pound foolish measures, including abolition of other practical vehicle fees, such as:
- A $3 vehicle registration fee, which is generally dedicated toward road safety improvements and highway patrol;
- A $0.50 vehicle registration fee dedicated to administrative costs and information technology improvements for the Department of Licensing;
- A weight-based fee for heavy vehicles (over 4,000 pounds) that cause significant damage to roads. Funding from the fee is used for transportation investments that were passed by the Washington State Legislature in 2015; and
- A $75 motor home fee, which is used for a variety of statewide transportation investments.
Eyman hopes to swindle enough voters into signing Initiative 947 to qualify for the 2018 general election ballot, but to do that, he needs to submit at least 259,622 valid voter signatures to the Secretary of State by the end of December. Due to Washington’s initiative laws, however, the Washington State Legislature could pass the measure on its own–a very unlikely prospect since it would throw the entire state operating and capital budgets into even more chaos than they already are–or propose an alternative measure that would go to voters along with Eyman’s initiative in the 2018 general election–a slightly more likely scenario.
The best case scenario, however, is one where Eyman’s initiative fails to succeed in getting enough signatures, which is why you should absolutely not sign it. And while you’re at it, make sure your friends and family don’t either. You can even help the advocacy groups that are gearing up to fight the initiative. Stopping the initiative will keep Washington moving and have the side benefit of making Eyman sad.