Tim Eyman’s newest initiative is a mirage. It may save eastern Washington families a little today — while costing them a good deal more later.
As he did in 1999 and 2002, Eyman — whose livelihood from promoting initiatives could end in a lifetime ban if Attorney General Bob Ferguson prevails in court — is going after the car tab.
His latest endeavor, Initiative 976, would lower fees to $30.
Gone would be any additional charge based on a car’s weight.
Gone would be the 0.3 percent sales tax surcharge on vehicle purchases.
The license fee on electric vehicles would drop from $150 to $30.
If you’re expecting a windfall, think again.
Because eastern Washington’s sparsely populated counties lack extensive transit systems and transportation benefit districts (TPDs) more prevalent in metropolitan centers, they do not pay extensive fees.
l A Clarkston owner of a 2004 GMC Yukon pays $88.25, including $45 on its weight and $13.25 in miscellaneous fees.
l The owner of a 2017 Mini Cooper registered in Asotin County pays $63.75, including $25 on the weight and $8.75 in miscellaneous fees.
Doesn’t sound like much of a savings, does it?
But Eyman isn’t courting motorists in Asotin, Garfield or even Whitman counties.
He’s looking at people on the west side who pay substantially more to support the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority in Pierce, Snohomish and King counties as well as the metropolitan TBDs throughout much of the state.
Here’s how that plays out:
l A Seattle resident who drives a 2006 Toyota Highlander shells out $179.25, including $80 to a TPD that supports extra bus services and maintenance, and $31 to the Sound Transit Authority.
l The owner of a 2018 Audi SUV who lives in Seattle will pay $549.75, including $80 to the TPD and $406 to the transit system.
l Living in Renton, the owner of a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu avoids Seattle’s TPD fees, but still pays $263 to the Sound Transit Authority, bringing his total to $326.75.
In other words, Eyman’s initiative may spare someone in Clarkston $35 or even $60 a year — a rounding error in most household budgets. But it’s not hard to imagine someone paying hundreds of dollars to drive in King County taking a second look at Eyman’s sales pitch.
What happens if they do?
The state transportation system loses about $1.9 billion during the next six years. By some estimates, that adds up to 8 percent of the state transportation budget.
On top of that, local governments would lose an estimated $2.3 billion during the next six years.
Don’t expect that money to spring from major highway and transportation projects already in the pipeline. Cuts will target the state’s cash flow to maintain and preserve its highways. If those dollars go where the people are, eastern Washington’s smaller communities will have even fewer resources to repair broken pavements or fix potholes.
As you drive on those banged up highways, your meager savings from reduced car tabs will evaporate quickly to pay for realignments, new struts or even tires.
Passing I-976 may reinvigorate Eyman’s sagging political fortunes, but it’s a loser for you.
Vote no. — M.T.