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Jan. 24, 2020

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Gov. Inslee not ready to OK $30 car tabs

Republicans feel otherwise as session looms

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Tacoma –Gov. Jay Inslee said he will not ask lawmakers to approve $30 car tabs early next year in response to the outcome of last month’s Initiative 976 vote.

In an interview with The News Tribune, Inslee said he wants to hear from the state Supreme Court on whether I-976 violates the state constitution. It’s unclear on when that will happen.

Until then, the governor said, he has put several transportation projects on hold. The state also is setting aside revenue from the taxes that would be impacted by I-976 in case refunds must be made to taxpayers, he said.

When asked why he wouldn’t try to fulfill the wishes of the voters before the high court issues a ruling, Inslee replied: “The reason is we have to have a transportation system in our state. The economy is dependent on it. Our personal lives are dependent on it.”

The remarks by Inslee, who opposed I-976, came as Republican lawmakers make plans to push for the Democratic-controlled Legislature to approve $30 car tabs shortly after the session begins in January. All 98 House members are up for re-election next year and 25 of the 49 senators. Inslee is seeking a third four-year term.

In 2000, Democratic Gov. Gary Locke convened a special session to make changes to Tim Eyman’s first $30 car tab initiative, which a King County judge found unconstitutional. The Legislature approved $30 car tabs and also made deep cuts to the state budget.

In addition to capping car tabs at $30 — actually it would be $43.25 counting fees — I-976 would reduce or remove the authority of state and local governments to charge several motor vehicle taxes and fees that pay for transportation projects.

Late last month, a King County Superior Court judge blocked the initiative from taking effect on Dec. 5, citing concerns that the ballot description was misleading and adding that the plaintiffs — led by King County and the city of Seattle — likely would win the case.

Inslee referenced the ballot title controversy when asked by The News Tribune about what message he took from voters approving I-976.

“A majority of those folks wanted some relief from the car tabs they are paying and/or had a misunderstanding — perhaps not because of their problem — but the way the (ballot) title was written. That’s a possibility, too,” he said.

Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said the first thing the Legislature should do in the 60-day session that begins Jan. 13 is to “uphold the will of the voters by passing car tab relief.”

“I’ve never seen the kind of outrage we are seeing right now following I-976, whether it’s in my email inbox, social media, conversations I’m having with people,” said Zeiger.

He has been in the Legislature since 2011, serving three House terms before being elected to the Senate in 2016.

“It’s like, ‘King County just doesn’t get it, and they’re out to kind of silence the will of the voters in the rest of the state.’ That’s the attitude I’m hearing from a lot of people now,” Zeiger added.

In addition, lawmakers need to scrap the valuation schedule that Sound Transit uses to calculate car tab bills that inflates the value of a new vehicle over its first 10 years compared to the Kelley Blue Book, Zeiger said.

“Which is not to say we should eliminate regional transit. The point is there needs to be some fairness, and we need to win back trust with the public,” he said.

Zeiger said there’s a way to reduce the cost of car tabs without making severe cuts in transportation. That would be accomplished, he said, by passing a GOP-sponsored bill that would shift state sales-tax revenue from vehicle purchases to the transportation budget, away from the budget used for day-to-day government operations.

The change would be phased in over 10 years to avoid a sudden impact on the state’s operating budget, said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.

Democrats control the House by a 57-41 margin. They also hold a 29-20 majority in the Senate, but their effective control is 28-21 because one Democrat — Tim Sheldon — caucuses and usually votes with the Republicans.

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