Politics & Government

Tim Eyman initiative to toss Sound Transit car-tab tax fails to garner enough signatures

Tim Eyman speaks at the entrance to the Washington State Capitol in 2013. Eyman’s latest car-tab initiative has failed to produce enough signatures to make the 2018 ballot.
Tim Eyman speaks at the entrance to the Washington State Capitol in 2013. Eyman’s latest car-tab initiative has failed to produce enough signatures to make the 2018 ballot. sbloom@theolympian.com file, 2013

Tim Eyman’s initiative to throw out Sound Transit’s car-tab taxes and tax every vehicle in Washington at a flat rate of $30 has failed to collect enough signatures and will not be on the ballot next year, Eyman announced in a letter to supporters.

Eyman, the longtime anti-tax crusader, had announced his initiative to the Legislature in July. He needed to collect nearly 260,000 signatures by Friday, which is the last business day of the year.

“Why didn’t we make it this time?” Eyman wrote. “It boils down to money. We just didn’t raise enough funds to hire paid petitioners to supplement our volunteers.

“Nowadays, it’s near essential to hire paid professionals,” Eyman said.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing Eyman, seeking $2.1 million, accusing him of enriching himself with money donated to his initiative campaigns.

Eyman’s initiative also would have barred local transportation benefit districts, which municipalities use to fund local transportation projects.

There are about 60 cities and towns with such fees, which tend to be $20 but range as high as $80 in Seattle. The $80 Seattle car-tab fee is used to fund supplemental bus service.

Eyman’s initiative would have dealt a huge blow to Sound Transit’s finances. Sound Transit 3, passed last year with 54 percent of the vote, more than tripled the car-tab tax in the region, which covers big chunks of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Sound Transit collects 1.1 percent of a car’s value in tax, or $110 for a car valued at $10,000.

ST3 plans to bring more than 60 miles of light rail to the region, along with expanded bus and commuter rail service, over the next 25 years, at a cost of $54 billion.

Eyman has twice previously gotten initiatives passed to cut car-tab taxes to $30, but one of those initiatives was ruled unconstitutional and the other is not in effect because Sound Transit had already sold bonds based on its tax rate.

When Eyman announced his initiative in July, Sound Transit said that if it were to pass, it would cost the agency between $6.9 billion and $8.1 billion, not counting increased borrowing costs.

And while Puget Sound region voters imposed Sound Transit’s taxes on themselves — by repeatedly approving Sound Transit ballot measures — Eyman’s initiative would have given voters statewide the ability to undo those taxes.

Eyman has said that a statewide initiative is the only practical way to undo Sound Transit’s local taxes, because the Sound Transit district stretches over three counties.

While Eyman’s initiative failed, it’s still likely the Legislature will take action on reducing car-tab taxes next year.

Public outcry earlier this year over the increase in car-tab taxes, and the inflated car-value formula that Sound Transit uses to calculate those taxes, led both the Democratic-controlled state House and the Republican-controlled state Senate to pass bills scaling back some of the tax increase.

But the Republican plan would have cut taxes, and Sound Transit’s revenues, far more, and the two parties never came to agreement.

With Democrats now controlling both chambers of the Legislature, they have said they will look to give taxpayers a small cut in car tabs.

Sound Transit’s formula for calculating a car’s value — which it inherited from the Legislature — inflates the value of cars that are less than 10 years old, resulting in a higher tax bill.

The plan that Democrats supported last year would essentially allow Sound Transit to switch to a more accurate formula and give refunds or credits for the difference between that formula and the inflated one currently in use.