Another surcharge? What happened to the $30 car tab? If you live in Washington state and already renewed your vehicle registration this year, you probably noticed the added surcharge that went into effect in January, five dollars to fund ferry replacement. I know. Why should drivers who don’t use the ferries pay to replace them? But that debate is for another day. Let’s look at the subject more broadly.
The debate-and the voter initiatives to cap the tabs to $30-goes back to 1999 when young anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, came up with I-695. It’s a long story I won’t get into here, but here’s the elevator version: The initiative passed in the fast lane, a lower court put the brakes on it as unconstitutional, and ultimately the state supreme court gave it the green light.
But not so fast. Actually, it was fast. In Washington state, initiatives are only good for two years. So by the early 2000s the legislature had started to tack on fees and surcharges to vehicle registration again. And again, Eyman came back with Initiative 776, which brought back the $30 car tabs. For a while. Over time fees have gradually raised to $60, $90 $250, depending on where drivers live. (The biggest tax is the motor vehicle excise tax applied in the Puget Sound region by Sound Transit.)
So for a third time, Eyman early this year launched I-1421, “Bring back our $30 car tabs.” But this crusade apparently never picked up speed. With a deadline this Friday to gather the required 246, 372 petition signatures, Eyman told the Everett Herald he’s ditching 1421 in exchange for I-869, which would “repeal car tab fees imposed by cities to pay for local road projects and weight fees charged by the state to defray costs of highway improvements.” (The measure also calls for the end of tolls on Interstate 495-jeopardizing expansion of light rail into Everett.)
And I can’t let a conversation about Eyman go by without mentioning his own drama. A Snohomish County judge last week ordered Eyman to turn over his business, banking and tax records as part of a probe into his campaign-finance practices.
You notice I haven’t come out against added taxes, fees or surcharges per se. I have nothing against the ferries. It’s the legislative maneuvering, the getting-around-the-voters thing that bothers me.
In the meantime, the inspiration for this post came in the mail this week, my vehicle registration renewal along with: filing fees that go to the county in which the fees is paid; gross weight fee that funds road, street, highway maintenance and improvements; and the $5 for the ferries.
My $30 car tabs will cost me $81, $84 if I want to donate $5 to keep state parks open.