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Tim Eyman’s latest $30 car tab attempt could cost Sound Transit $7 to 8 billion

It would also restrict local transportation benefit districts

Michael B/Flickr

Initiative-booster Tim Eyman is best-known for his initiatives to lower taxes—especially those that would make all car tabs a flat rate of $30. He’s doing just that for a third time with his new initiative, I-947.

The measure would reach Eyman’s long-sought-after goal, $30 car tabs throughout the state—with no wiggle-room for local measures to collect revenue. This would prevent Sound Transit from collecting its revenue for the ST3 light rail expansion approved by voters in November. The agency estimates that if Eyman’s measure passes, it will cost them anywhere from $6.9 to 8.1 billion.

The Sound Transit board would have to decide how to proceed by canceling or delaying projects and “potentially increasing borrowing.”

It would also prevent transportation benefit district fees. Seattle, for example, currently pays an $80 car-tab fee to preserve transportation—$20 approved in 2010 and $60 approved in 2014.

Previous initiatives presented by Eyman in 1999 and 2002 attempted essentially the same end goal—$30 car tabs, in 1999 and 2002 dollars. The 1999 measure passed, temporarily wiping out 7 percent of the state’s tax revenues—a $750 million deficit in state’s transportation budget—before being declared unconstitutional.

Still, the legislature passed a measure making car tabs $30 statewide, eliminating the previous system based on a car’s value. Sound Transit, continued collecting a percentage fee locally.

In 2002, Eyman’s follow-up initiative specifically targeted Sound Transit taxes billed on top of the $30 fee, but the agency was already tied up in bonds. A state court ruled that the agency could continue to collect the tax until it fulfilled its obligations.

Similar initiatives—one in 2006 and two in 2016—have failed to make the ballot.

Fast-forward to 2017. Sound Transit has already sold bonds for ST3, but Eyman’s new initiative targets Sound Transit more sharply by requiring them to refinance or retire those bonds.

The timing may have seemed right to Eyman to bring back the measure. Although voters approved the fee for light rail expansion late last year, “sticker shock” at the final car tab amount was widely reported.

Sound Transit used an old but inflated valuation system from the state in calculating the amount of the car tab tax—a problem agency says they were open to fixing before the measure even went to the ballot.

After the public outcry, Democrats and Republicans alike in the Washington State Legislature tried to fix the problem, some by just fixing the calculation, some casting a wider net over the agency’s finances.

Ultimately, the last-minute budget passed in this year’s legislative session left the fees as-is.

As Eyman announced his new measure on Tuesday, he claimed voters are feeling “buyers’ remorse” over the light rail expansion, which will bring 62 additional miles of light rail to the regional system.

Eyman is currently being sued by the Washington State Attorney General for $2 million. The AG is alleging Eyman pocketed donations from his many anti-tax campaigns.

To qualify for the ballot in 2018, the initiative needs to collect 260,000 signatures by December 29.