OLYMPIA – Washington voters likely will have the chance to stop local governments from increasing vehicle tab fees aimed at improving roads and public transportation.
With members of a ready-made opposition campaign present, Tim Eyman, along with Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack Fagan, presented the final boxes of signatures for Initiative 976 to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office last week.
The initiative would prevent local governments from adding on to the state $30 vehicle tab fee. Currently, local governments can create Transportation Benefit Districts, which are allowed to impose tab fees. Spokane’s City Council formed such a district in 2010. Spokane’s $20 tab fee was approved in 2011. That fee would be eliminated under I-976. The city plans to pay for about $2 million in street projects with those tab fees in 2019.
Supporters of I-976 turned in more than 352,000 signatures, which should be enough to send the proposal to the Legislature, where it could become law or be sent to the November ballot.
Under I-976, license tabs for cars and trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds would be limited to $30, compared to current fees that range from $53 to $93. It also would reduce the motor vehicle excise tax, including for Sound Transit, which serves the Puget Sound region. Those excise taxes would have to be based on Kelley Blue Book values, which are generally lower than the system Sound Transit uses.
Opponents argue the initiative, if passed, will hurt transit systems like Sound Transit, as well as projects to repave streets, which is what Spokane’s tab fee mostly pays for.
It also reduces the fee on electric vehicles from $100 to $30.
If I-976 passes, the city of Spokane would lose about $2.5 million a year earmarked for fixing residential streets., said Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman. That’s more than half of the $4.5 million the city spends on fixing residential roads. Arterial streets are funded separately.
“Over time, it would continue to degrade residential areas,” Feist said. “It could be more potholes. It could be more cracking.”
The city owns 1,449 miles of residential and non-arterial lane miles and 758 arterial lane miles; however, arterial lanes draw more than 90 percent of the total traffic in Spokane.
Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs said he opposes the initiative. He said that fixing potholes and road repairs are in the top five requests from surveys of citizens, and taking money away from those initiatives likely would be ill-received.
“Based on calls I get from community members, they appreciate getting roads paved,” he said.
Fagan said if the city loses the $2.5 million for street repairs, he would want the City Council to take public input on how to make up for the lost revenue.
“I would hold a lot of public meetings,” he said. “I would want people here to vote it in themselves. If they did vote it in themselves, the City Council would have to figure out on what level they would want to tax themselves on their license tabs.”
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