Drivers are already starting to notice a dramatic increase in their vehicle renewal fees.
Washington state voters approved the Sound Transit 3 bill last November, which allows the Regional Transit Authority to levy taxes in order to fund expansion and extension of the Seattle light rail.
The $27 billion needed in taxes to fund the project are expected to come from three sources: a 0.8 percent increase in motor vehicle excise taxes, a 0.5 percent increase in sales tax, and a 25 cent per $1,000 of value increase in property taxes.
Drivers trying to renew tabs on their vehicles must now pay $110 per $10,000 of the assessed value of their vehicle. This value is determined by the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, combined with a depreciation schedule based on year. For example, the MSRP of a 2014 Ford Mustang is $36,210. The service year (current year – year of model + 1) determines the depreciated value. For a 2014 car, the service year is 4. According to the depreciation schedule used by the Washington State Department of Licensing, a 2014 vehicle has depreciated in value by 17%, giving the Mustang an assessed value of $30,054. Therefore, the registered owner would pay a grand total of $330. This tax is in addition to existing taxes and fees paid during vehicle renewal. It was unclear whether a minimum fee is collected if a vehicle is determined to be worth under $10,000.
Many drivers are outraged. On his Facebook page, Bonney Lake resident Shawn Privette shared a couple of choice words for voters who approved the proposition after seeing his $395 bill. Many of his friends shared his frustration. Aaron Clarke called the fee “ridiculous” after receiving a $512 bill for his 2015 Chevy Silverado. Pete Mahowald, a resident of Lake Tapps who drives a 2016 Ford F-150, paid a whopping $636.
Other drivers are equally outraged but for different reasons. Ryan McNeil expressed his frustration not at the tax itself but at the amount of time it took to pass.
“If we would have done [this] 15 or 20 years ago, it would have cost a tenth of what it’s going to cost us now. They wanted to do mass transit for almost two decades in our area. It was constantly shut down year after year … Anybody could have seen this mess coming. Now we have to have it. And now it’s going to cost billions of dollars.”
Not all residents of Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties will be affected. Cities outside the Regional Transit Authority’s taxing boundaries, cities like Enumclaw, Carbonado, and Marysville, are exempt from taxation. Taxing district boundaries follow urban growth boundaries, which are determined by individual counties. Taxing boundaries are put in place so that rural residents, who are unlikely to use Sound Transit services, do not have to pay for them.
For those looking to avoid the tax, but who live within the taxing district, certain vehicles are exempt. Any passenger car or truck that is used for tribal, local, county, state, or federal business is exempt, as well as private school vehicles and vehicles used for farming. Trailers, motorcycles, and other types of vehicles (four-wheelers, snowmobiles, etc.) are generally exempt from the tax as well. Service members whose home of record is not Washington state are exempt from all motor vehicle excise taxes.