Luxury car owners rejoiced yesterday as Democrats passed HB 2201, a bill cutting car tab fees, through the Washington State House of Representatives. The biggest savings will go the Puget Sound taxpayers with the priciest cars. The bill would cost Sound Transit $780 million directly and $2.3 billion when accounting for increased financing costs. The bill passed 60 to 37 with only five of 50 Democrats opposed–among them Seattle Representatives Nicole Macri, Gael Tarleton, and Noel Frame; Joe Fitzgibbon of Burien; and Beth Doglio of Olympia. 32 Republicans voted against the bill, and although most did so because they wanted even bigger cuts to Sound Transit, Republican Jacquelin Maycumber of Republic had the quote of the night, as Heidi Groover pointed out.
“Seattle is a world-class city and it deserves a world-class transit system,” Rep. Maycumber said. “And that’s why the people spoke… This bill goes against what the people requested and the people voted for.”
HB 2201 must still pass the State Senate and be signed by Governor Jay Inslee to become law. We urge you to email your state senators to ask them to not pass a car tab bill unless it backfills the cuts to Sound Transit’s budget. Without replacement funds, HB 2201 could possibly delay some of the Sound Transit 3 projects voters approved by an eight-point margin in 2016. It will be interesting to see how Democrats use their new majority in the State Senate. They will not be impressing transit supporters if their first big move is to take a sizable bite out of Sound Transit’s budget.
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Luckily, the state legislature can do some relatively easy things to help Sound Transit bear the cost, even without touching general funds or adding new taxes:
- Permit streamlining;
- Giving Sound Transit a discount on Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) right-of-way;
- Exempting rolling stock (e.g., Sound Transit trainsets) from state sales tax;
- Authorizing impact fees for transit;
- Allowing for easier creation of transit benefit districts in proposed station areas;
- Using funds in the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account, which was salvaged out of a Republican attempt to raid Sound Transit funds as Stephen Fesler explained back in 2015:
To stick it to Sound Transit and fund state obligations, the Republicans fought for a $500+ million tax on Sound Transit 3. Originally, this would have been siphoned off to the state highway fund, but Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) cleverly threatened to amend the bill with a referendum requirement unless the money went back to the Puget Sound communities from where it was derived. Republicans were concerned that this would result in an unholy alliance of conservative anti-taxers and progressive urban-green voters to kill the transportation package later this year at ballot. This money instead would be directed to the “Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account” to fund K-12 and higher education programs. The funds must be expended in relationship to how revenue is collected with the Sound Transit subareas.
Progressive tax reform should be a medium-term priority for Washington Democrats, but it’s very unlikely this session. Let’s hope Democrats have loftier goals for their legislative majority than fussing over car tabs and delivering big refund checks to the wealthy owners of expensive cars.
Photo courtesy of Sound Transit.
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.