OLYMPIA – Lawmakers on the Senate Transportation committee approved SB 6606 today, a measure introduced by state Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) that seeks to keep light rail construction in the Puget Sound area on track while also implementing a fairer vehicle valuation system for car tab fees.

“When I talk to my constituents, they don’t want to be stuck in traffic.” said Liias. “They want light rail to come to us but they also want their cars to be valued fairly. Not on inflated values. We want our light rail, but we also want the tax system to be fair. And that’s what Senate Bill 6606 endeavors to do.”  [Link to MP3 audio file]

Liias says the $490 million in surplus tax revenue Sound Transit has already collected, in addition to the $2 billion surplus the agency estimates they’ll have by 2028, can be used to offset much of the reduced funding resulting from the lower car tab fees.

“I feel like I’m stuck between Sound Transit and Tim Eyman, trying to find a pathway that’s reasonable and balances what my constituents are asking for,” said Liias. “They want light rail. They want to get out of this Puget Sound traffic. But they also want a tax system that is fair. And one that they can understand. And one that they can fit into their monthly budgets in their households. That’s what I’ve tried to do here.” [Link to MP3 audio file]

In 2016, voters within the designated Sound Transit taxing district approved the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package, a 62-mile extension of light rail that expands the current system to more Puget Sound communities like Everett, Tacoma, Redmond and West Seattle.

Part of the ST3 funding package includes an increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) – a progressive tax based on a vehicle’s value. The MVET valuation table used for ST3 for the next eight years is an older table seen by many as unfair because it overvalues most newer vehicles.

A newer valuation table, which aligns more closely with vehicle values like those listed in the Kelley Blue Book, is scheduled to take effect in 2028.

SB 6606 would require Sound Transit to begin using the newer valuation table starting in 2021.

Another major component of SB 6606 would give motorists within the Sound Transit District an option to pay MVET bills monthly or quarterly using Good To Go! accounts.

“I do think we need to provide more payment options to consumers,” said Liias. “When you pay your car loan, when you pay your auto insurance, you have options for how to pay those. I think it’s time to give our consumers, our taxpayers, those same options to pay quarterly, to pay monthly.” [Link to MP3 audio file]

SB 6606 was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday. Because parts of the bill would modify I-976 within two years of the initiative’s passage, the state constitution requires SB 6606 to receive a two-thirds majority for passage.

Liias testified in support of his bill last week. His full testimony can be viewed here. The Everett Herald editorial board recently weighed in stressing the importance of finding a compromise on this issue.

SB 6606 is considered “necessary to implement the budget,” meaning the bill is exempt from the traditional legislative cutoff deadlines other bills must meet to be considered throughout the 2020 legislative session.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn for the year on March 12.