Washington state battles over ‘car tab’ limits

December 6, 2019

Keith Goble


The battle continues in Washington state over the implementation of a cap on “car tabs,” vehicle sales taxes and other fees. Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation has announced the postponement of certain projects.

The Washington Supreme Court upheld a superior court decision to temporarily block Initiative 976 from taking effect on Thursday, Dec. 5. Voters in the state last month approved the initiative to roll back vehicle fees, or car tabs, to $30 yearly.

The annual license fees are collected on vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds.

According to a fiscal analysis, the fees totaled $58 million one year ago for state and local transportation work.

The money is used for projects that include highway construction, county roads and bridges, commercial vehicle enforcement, and pedestrian projects.

Court challenge

A King County Superior Court Judge recently ruled to temporarily block the initiative from taking effect. The state Supreme Court acted this week by a simple majority to uphold the decision.

King County, the city of Seattle and other transit-oriented groups previously filed an injunction claiming the initiative is unconstitutional. The coalition says the initiative violates the single-subject rule, and it would do “irreparable” harm to the state’s transportation budget.

On Monday, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office filed an “emergency motion for stay” to reverse the injunction. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the court challenge goes against the will of the state’s voters.

The Supreme Court ruled that the injunction will remain in effect while the litigation challenging the initiative’s constitutionality is ongoing.

Transportation work in limbo

Since I-976 was approved last month Gov. Jay Inslee has instructed the Washington State Department of Transportation to curb projects yet to get underway. The governor cited an anticipated budget shortfall due to the cap on taxes and fees.

Critics have said capping fees at $30 will strip state and local governments’ ability to move forward with needed projects. Specifically, they said I-976 will result in $2.3 billion in lost funding for local governments. The state will lose out on $1.9 billion over the same time period.

In addition to the cap on car tabs, commercial trailer fees are set to be reduced from $34 to $30, and an electric vehicle fee is to be trimmed from $150 to $30. Additionally, authorization will be repealed for certain regional transit authorities to impose motor vehicle excise taxes.

Ferguson challenges the claim that transportation work needs to be halted because of concerns about finances.

“Local governments in Washington have a variety of revenue sources available to fund transportation needs, from a wide range of taxes to state and federal grants,” Ferguson wrote in his motion to stay the injunction.

More Land Line coverage of news from Washington is available.


Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.