Car tab taxes help fund light rail projects.
Car tab taxes help fund light rail projects. Sound Transit

As state lawmakers from both parties scramble to placate drivers at the expense of transit by giving some of them a tax credit on their car tabs, one Democrat has another idea.

Federal Way Representative Kristine Reeves is sponsoring a bill that would allow drivers who owe $200 or more in car tab fees to pay those fees in installments throughout the year. (Each payment would also incur a $5 service fee, as one-time car tab payments already do.) Payment plans would be one way to ease the burden of higher car tab taxes without stripping money Sound Transit needs to massively expand light rail.

That's the good news. The bad news for transit advocates who might like this approach:

Reeves—just like every other House Democrat—voted last year for the car tab bill that would have stripped $780 million from Sound Transit (or $2 billion after higher borrowing costs). And in an interview with The Stranger, she would not take a position on whether she will again vote for that bill this session.

"I’m really focused on making sure Sound Transit can build projects and bring light rail to my community and making sure families that are struggling can afford [the car tab taxes]," Reeves said.

But asked directly whether she would vote for or against House Bill 2201, the Democratic plan that would cost Sound Transit, she would not say. "In my mind it doesn’t matter whether 2201 passes or no," Reeves said. "It’s an independent, stand alone bill."

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Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick said by email the agency is "supportive of the principle behind [Reeves'] bill as it could provide relief for families who are hard pressed to pay the annual license fee all at once."

However, Patrick said lawmakers should ensure there is a way to make sure drivers pay their full car tab taxes so the agency doesn't lose funding. (Today, you get your tabs after paying the taxes you owe in full. If you were to get your tabs after paying only one installment of your taxes, the state would need a way of making sure you follow through and pay the rest of your payments.) Sound Transit opposes cuts to car tab revenue unless the cuts are accompanied by new funding to replace the lost revenue.

Reeves' payment plan bill will get its first public hearing in the House Committee on Transportation at 3:30 pm on Thursday.