Higher car-tab bills landing in mailboxes with ST3 tax hike

Need to renew your car tabs? Increased fees are starting to go into effect following the passage of Sound Transit 3.
Need to renew your car tabs? Increased fees are starting to go into effect following the passage of Sound Transit 3. The Seattle Times

Every year Washington residents have to pay their car-tab fees. And every year, 30 to 60 days before the tabs expire, the state Department of Licensing sends a reminder that the tab fees are coming due.

For a lot of drivers in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, this year’s renewal notices are coming as quite a shock.

The notices going out within the last month or so are the first to include the car-tab tax increase from Sound Transit 3, which more than tripled the existing fee that had been in place since the Sound Move transportation levy passed in 1996.

For a $10,000 car, Sound Transit’s car-tab fee went from $30 a year to $110 a year. Combined with the other fees that are rolled into renewing car tabs — the county filing fee, the state weight fee, transportation benefit district fees, etc. — some drivers are paying a lot more than they did a year ago.

Licensing Department spokesman Brad Benfield said the agency has been getting more calls than normal from drivers in the ST3 area with sticker shock from their car-tab fees.

“We have not been swamped,” he said. “I’m sure we’re getting some increased level of people calling.”

Benfield said the department’s statewide call center takes about 8,000 calls per week. The last week of January saw 96 calls about ST3 tax increases, he said, emphasizing that numbers come from hand tally sheets done to estimate trends and probably underestimate the true number of calls.

The week of Jan. 6, that number had more than tripled to 322 calls about ST3, Benfield said. Numbers for the week of Jan. 13 were not available.

“The numbers are not super reliable, but they do indicate trends,” he said.

A customer service representative at the call center estimated about half of their calls were about ST3.

Voters passed ST3 last year with about 54 percent of the vote, committing to at least three decades of car tab, property tax and sales tax increases in exchange for a massive expansion of light rail, Sounder trains, park-and-ride spaces and bus-rapid transit over the next 25 years.

ST3’s property tax increases, $25 per $100,000 home value, went into effect Jan. 1. The ST3 sales tax bump, 50 cents per $100 purchase, goes into effect April 1.

The new car tab fees apply to tabs that expire after March 1. That means renewal notices for those tabs began going out in January and have been getting more and more notice as deadlines for renewal approach.