After months of debate, the Washington State Legislature adjourned last night without passing a car tab bill. That means drivers furious over high tab costs will, well, continue to be furious. Meanwhile, Sound Transit has escaped a $2 billion hit.
For two legislative sessions, lawmakers from both parties in the state House and Senate have considered changing the way car tab taxes are calculated. Those taxes will help fund light rail lines included in the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 package voters across Puget Sound approved in 2016. The package will expand light rail to West Seattle, Ballard, Everett, Tacoma, and elsewhere. The formula Sound Transit uses to calculate those car tab fees inflates car values, which left some drivers with sticker shock when they renewed their tabs.
As lawmakers considered ways to reduce those tabs, they initially offered little in the way of replacing the money they would take from Sound Transit. The bills that got the most traction this session would have directly cost Sound Transit $780 million, but could have cost a total of about $2.3 billion because of higher borrowing costs to replace the lost funding, according to the agency. Then, in the final days of this session, state Senators proposed a partial backfill. They passed a bill last week to exempt Sound Transit from certain construction taxes. The problem: those tax dollars are budgeted for education programs. Citing worries about cutting those funds, the House Transportation Committee rejected the Senate's idea. By the time sine die arrived last night, the two sides hadn't reached a compromise.
In a statement, House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, blamed House Republicans, who she claims intended to "filibuster the bill." Clibborn said she was "extremely disappointed" and indicated that, although she is retiring, this fight could come back again next session.