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Ben Stuckart wants City Council to rally against car-tab initiative; Tim Eyman travels to Spokane to protest

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 22, 2019

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart doesn’t much care for Initiative 976.

Its sponsor, Tim Eyman, doesn’t much care for Stuckart.

Stuckart introduced a resolution to the city council on Monday that would formalize the council’s opposition to Initiative 976, which critics believe could jeopardize funding for critical transportation projects like the North Spokane Corridor.

“The Spokane City Council urges voters in the City of Spokane to reject Initiative 976 due to its negative impact on transportation infrastructure and the local jobs which would be lost due to the elimination of a major funding source for needed transportation projects,” the resolution states.

Co-sponsored by Eyman, Initiative 976 would limit annual motor vehicle license fees to $30 a year. The anti-tax activist argues that the valuation system the state uses to calculate tab fees is unfair.

If passed, the initiative would result in a loss of some $4.2 billion to transportation funding between state and local governments. Eyman has not proposed any alternative taxes or ways to fund road projects, but believes that the loss in revenue from the initiative’s passage can be covered by the state’s current budget surplus. Instead, he has suggested that government officials will have to learn how to spend taxpayer money more wisely.

Tipped off by fellow anti-tax crusader and council member Mike Fagan, who was not present, Eyman traveled to Spokane on Monday to speak out against the resolution. The resolution was listed on the consent agenda for the committee, causing Eyman to worry that it would not be subject to a full public hearing prior to its adoption by the city council.

Eyman was incorrect.

“We had a resolution opposing 976 on a committee agenda. After committee we decide whether it goes to the legislative agenda or not. Everyone gets a chance to testify,” Stuckart told The Spokesman-Review.

Eyman’s outburst during Monday’s finance committee meeting prompted its chair, council member Candace Mumm, to temporarily suspend the meeting. Council members explained that the resolution was not on Monday’s legislative agenda for the City Council, and that public input would be taken prior to its adoption.

Eyman was critical of Stuckart for introducing the resolution.

“The whole idea of the government telling people how to vote is pretty offensive,” Eyman said.

Stuckart said it’s perfectly legal for the council to weigh in on state initiatives, and it has done so dozens of times. He said Eyman is “not getting very much traction with 976, so he’d like to distract the public” with news conferences and acting out at public meetings.

“It would be devastating,” Stuckart said of Initiative 976.

To license their vehicle, car owners currently pay a base fee of $30. But tacked on is a service fee of $5, a county filing fee of $3, and a license service fee of 75 cents. Depending on the weight of the vehicle, the owner must pay a weight fee, which for a 4,000-pound vehicle adds $25.

Localities can also impose fees on car tabs, which in Spokane adds $20 to the motorists’ tab fees and is funneled into the city’s transportation benefit district. When its all added up, licensing a vehicle often surpasses $100.

The Spokane City Council would not be alone in voicing opposition to the proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat, told The Spokesman-Review earlier this month that, if it passes, the initiative would be “such a jolt to the system that everything will be cut.

“Whatever you care about in transportation – whether it be pothole repair, the North Spokane Corridor, transit, bike infrastructure – it will likely be undermined by Initiative 976,” Billig said.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on voters to oppose the measure earlier this month.

Eyman sought assurance Monday that proponents of the initiative would be given as much time to speak as opponents, if and when the council places the resolution on its legislative agenda. For example, if 10 people use their allotted three minutes to speak against the initiative, Eyman said state law requires that proponents be given an equal 30 minutes to speak – even if he is the initiative’s only proponent.

Stuckart said he had never heard of such a rule, but that he would “look into the equal time argument.”

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect that Tim Eyman believes the state’s budget surplus would cover the revenue lost if Initiative 976 passes.

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