Lawmakers push for immediate relief from high car tabs

SEATTLE - The little sticker on your car is spurring a big move at the Capitol in Olympia. The majority of Pierce, Snohomish and King County voters approved ST3, a ballot measure to expand light rail in the region. But many drivers say they were surprised by the skyrocketing fee to register their car tabs.

On Monday, lawmakers held a hearing about lowering those car tabs.

In the hearing, more people spoke in favor of the current system saying higher car tabs are necessary to expand transportation. But many lawmakers still want to see an immediate end to the high car tabs because outside of the hearing room they are getting emails and phone calls from angry constituents.

“It is going to pass in the senate,” Senator Steve O’Ban said.

O’Ban says he has the momentum for his bill that would lower car tabs by changing the way Sound Transit calculates the value of a car.

“They need to do it now,” O’Ban said.

The senator says Sound Transit needs to use the Kelley Blue Book value when calculating car tab fees, not the MSRP, the sticker price of a car when it is new.

“We are open to discussing alternatives to the depreciation schedule but it has to be done within certain parameters,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said.

Rogoff says Kelley Blue book value is too complicated because you need to consider things like mileage and condition.

“Are we going to have an annual inspection of every car to figure out what the condition is,” Rogoff said.

“They could come up with a standard mileage rate for a car of that year so we get a lot closer to what the true value of the vehicle is,” O’Ban said.

If O’Ban's bill passes, Sound Transit says light rail expansion could be delayed because it would be billions of dollars short.

“Sound Transit is no stranger to delayed projects this has been their history so frankly for them to be claiming delay I think it`s absurd,” O’Ban said.

Some democrats are also on board for change but say they want cars to be valued by another model. They support an algorithm that would save an average driver about 25% on car tabs.

“The 2006 valuation is a more current valuation that more accurately reflects the current values,” Rep. Mike Pellicciotti said.

Right now, Sound Transit is using a 1999 valuation and moving to a 2006 schedule right away could mean losing $6 billion according to the agency.

They could lose more if they used a Kelley Blue Book system although the exact loss to Sound Transit is unknown. Sound Transit says the 1999 valuation they are using is set to expire in 11 years and it will automatically revert to the 2006 schedule.

But with all the pushback, the agency says they are now looking into the feasibility of moving to the 2006 schedule earlier.

Pellicciotti says he’s concerned about using a valuation like the Kelley Blue Book because variable fluctuations could also affect bond holdings.

Sound Transit says they have negotiated low-interest rates for bonds and any drastic changes to the way they calculate car tabs could mean higher interest rates.
“Taxpayers in the Sound Transit region will have to pay those bills too,” Rogoff said.

Not under O’Ban’s watch.

“Sound Transit has no one to blame but themselves,” O’Ban said.

O’Ban says the agency did not do a good enough job of informing the public about how high car tabs could get prior to voters saying yes to ST3.

O’Ban expects his bill to clear the senate in about 2 weeks then it will be up to house members to vote on the measure.