OLYMPIA – State lawmakers will look to trim $478 million out of the transportation budget in the coming session as they grapple with the effects of Initiative 976, which is scheduled to become law on Dec. 5 after receiving voter approval this month.
“Our job is to balance the budget, and that’s just what we’re going to do,” Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said after the panel got a review of the different programs facing cuts.
Although the city of Seattle and King County have sued to block the initiative, Hobbs said that shouldn’t stop lawmakers from proceeding with cuts “because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Unless a court issues an injunction as opponents are requesting, I-976 will remove many fees and taxes levied by state and local governments on top of the basic $30 license tab fees. Owners of certain vehicles would no longer pay weight fees or light duty truck fees, and electric vehicle fees would be reduced from $150 to $130. The Motor Vehicle Excise Tax in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties would either be eliminated or reduced, depending on the ability to pay off some bonds sold by the Sound Transit Authority by March.
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, state transportation officials are looking for projects that can be delayed as a way of lessening the budget impact, but legislators won’t have that information until closer to the start of the session in January.
Absent an injunction, people who must renew their tabs on Dec. 6 or later will pay less. But people who are scheduled to renew their tabs in November won’t get a deal by waiting until Dec. 6 or later, the state Department of Licensing said. The system will automatically charge them what they owed before the law took effect.
Drivers who renewed their December tabs early and paid the higher rates will eventually get a refund, the department said.
Although $30 tabs was the rallying cry of I-976 sponsor Tim Eyman, license tab fees won’t go quite that low because there are at least $13.25 in various service fees the initiative didn’t touch. Drivers with personalized or specialty plates will still pay extra.
The initiative passed in 33 counties. This week, Eyman wrote to commissioners in all of those counties urging them to join the lawsuit to defend the initiative. He is giving supporters the commissioners’ email addresses to amplify the request.
Spokane County commissioners have received between 50 and 60 emails from constituents “with the general consensus in support of Mr. Eyman,” county spokesman Jared Webley said. He called it “noticeable but not significant support” compared to some recent local issues.
Spokane County has no plans to join the lawsuit on either side, Webley said. It is waiting for a clearer picture on what I-976 will mean to the county if it survives the court challenge and for decisions legislators will make in the 2020 session.
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