State lawmakers' battle to lower car tab fees is 'complicated'

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- With a little over two weeks left before the end of the regular legislative session, the pressure is on for state lawmakers to lower the cost of car tabs.

“Rightly so, voters, taxpayers are outraged,” said state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place.

Both Republicans and Democrats are getting an earful from constituents angry over dramatic car tab increases to pay for light rail expansion.

“We have to find a way to do light rail and tax relief at the same time,” Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said.

The solution is complicated.

This year’s transportation bill is about 151 pages long and there are now a half-dozen amendments to the bill just addressing how to fix the car tab issue.

In addition to the amendments, about a dozen stand-alone bills have been proposed regarding the car tabs.

“We’ve got to get rid of the horrible (state Department of Licensing's depreciation) MVET schedule,” O’Ban said.

The Republicans say the math is simple, they want all cars tab to be based on fair market value like Kelley Blue Book, not the retail price of a new car or MSRP.

Democrats say fair market value is unconstitutional, based on current state law.

“The way that the bonds are issued, they rely on MVET the way it is today,” Liias said.

So now some Democrats are behind an effort to provide rebates.

“It really focuses on low-income, fixed-income folks, seniors, veterans, retirees, etc,” Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, said.

Under Reeves bill, people considered low income could see up to 40% off their car tabs or property taxes.

For example, in King County that means you would have to make $50,000 or less to qualify for a rebate.

“I frankly do not have the confidence in Sound Transit that they will design a fair rebate program anyway, I want the middle class to benefit from this,” O’Ban said.

The question is, can the two sides come to a compromise.

“I can’t force other people to agree. I am just trying to find the middle ground,” Liias said.

“I will do what it takes for meaningful relief but I am not going go for an alleged solution that papers over the problem,” O’Ban said.