In the American film classic “High Noon,” Gary Cooper plays Marshal Will Kane, who learns a ruthless outlaw is coming to town on the noon train to gun him down. Everybody wants him to run.
His fianceé, his deputy, the townsfolk all want him to leave, fearing he’ll get involved in a losing fight. So Marshal Kane is forced to face the outlaw alone.
My showdown with Sound Transit is nothing like that. If Kane had to wait as long as Pierce County does for Sound Transit’s train, he would have safely died of old age.
Unlike the marshal, I am not facing Sound Transit alone. Thousands of taxpayers support holding the agency accountable, and the more people who open their mail and see their inflated car tab bills, the more who support me in this fight.
For those of us who believe Sound Transit should not be able to artificially inflate a vehicle’s value when calculating car tab taxes, time is running out.
There is only one obstacle in the Legislature that can stop Sound Transit from collecting car tab fees at inflated prices in perpetuity, and that roadblock is Senate Bill 5893. (More on that in a moment.)
First, while last fall’s ST3 vote substantially increased car tab taxes, the problem is made even worse by the method Sound Transit uses to calculate them. It uses the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price to determine the value of our vehicles. This method inflates the value of cars. For example, MSRP values a 2010 Nissan Altima at $21,800, but the National Automobile Dealers Association method puts the same car’s worth at $10,300.
Of course, an inflated value means inflated tax collection. It’s like buying a dinner at Denny’s but getting a bill for dinner at El Gaucho.
It is not fair, and it is precisely why voters overwhelmingly repealed this valuation method in 1999. The reinstatement of this discredited formula stings especially hard in Pierce County, where we soundly rejected ST3 in November.
Sound Transit resurrected this valuation scheme in the ST3 funding-authorization legislation. I believe it was unconstitutionally drafted. It purported to modify the previous vehicle valuation schedule but referred only to the general chapter of law in which the provision appears, not — as the Washington State Constitution requires — the provision itself.
The point of this requirement is to prevent legislators or citizens from being misled, as the Legislature certainly was when it passed this scheme.
SB5893 would put things right. While it would not change the outcome of the ST3 vote or “unring the bell,” as a recent TNT editorial suggested, it would force Sound Transit to value fairly the vehicles it taxes. Here is how:
Sound Transit contracts with the state Department of Licensing to collect its fees. That contract expires this year, and it is likely that Sound Transit has not been paying the full cost of collection. The agency has told us it has no ability to collect the fees on its own.
My bill would prohibit DOL from collecting Sound Transit’s car tab fees if they are based on a false model of valuation. Sound Transit could continue to charge the unfair fees, but they would have no way of collecting them.
The entire Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has endorsed this approach, and the Senate Transportation budget contains provisions that reinforce this effort.
The question now is whether the House, led by the other party, will fight to save inflated taxes or join us in setting things right.
I know what Gary Cooper would do.
Sen. Steve O’Ban is a Republican representing the 28th Legislative District and is a member of the Washington Senate Transportation Committee.