Liias-proposed compromise on vehicle valuation issue wins Senate Transportation Committee approval

State Sen. Marko Liias during a Senate Transportation Committee meeting in January. (Photo courtesy Senate Democrats)

Lawmakers on the Washington State Senate Transportation committee have approved a measure introduced by 21st District State Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) that implements a fairer vehicle valuation system for car tab fees while also keeping light rail construction in the Puget Sound area on track.

“When I talk to my constituents, they don’t want to be stuck in traffic,” Liias said. “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.”

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,”Liias saiid. “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.”

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.”

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.

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.

40 Replies to “Liias-proposed compromise on vehicle valuation issue wins Senate Transportation Committee approval”

  1. Sen. Liias understands that the voters of the Sound Transit district actually voted AGAINST I-976 ~they voted FOR keeping the higher car tab taxes. Presumably because voters want the Link light rail project to be completed as planned, to Lynnwood and beyond to Everett.

    Sen. Liias is trying to strike a reasonable balance between voters’ conflicting interests~ a substantial reduction in car tab costs, while also allowing light rail construction to continue. I like what he’s doing.


  2. This continues to be a large problem with government, the people vote and pass initiatives and officials ignore the people’s vote, only to push their agenda. The Democrats love to Tax and Spend other people’s money and Control through regulations. Socialism is Communism! Freedom and Liberty lost.


  3. Obviously Liias did not understand what the voters wanted or the Legislature would have done something Before the I-976 was even conceived…kind of like closing the barn door after the horses/cows have escaped.


  4. I agree with Mr.Pence here. There needs to be a happy medium. Feel good simplistic answers like $30 car tabs are no answer at all. They just create more and different problems. We need to figure out fair taxation to succeed as a society.


    1. Clint, $30 tabs is too high if we account for the fact that Sound Transit isnt returning the money they stole. Light rail train systems are failing accross the country BTW. Its progressive to catch failed plans before they fail.


      1. Whatever we end up with, the settlement should provide for Sound Shysters returning the money that they stole from car owners. Remember that we are also paying sales tax and property taxes to the SS.


        1. When real estate has a market correction in this area, houses and trains will implode. We are over developing leading into what will be a great Seattle depression.


  5. I’m open minded. What’s the answer if we scrap light rail ?

    Using light rail and rapid transit I can and do travel from SeaTac to Edmonds for about $3.00. Granted I do get Senior rates so that helps too. The going rate using a taxi service of some sort for this trip would be at least $40 to $60 if not more. Is it convenient; not particularly. Is it cheap; you bet. Whether light rail is successful or not is a bit of a subjective view. If you choose to stay in your heavily taxed car for convenience and comfort sake, it will be a failure. We make choices.

    Shouldn’t the base for paying for this service be way broader than car tabs and sales taxes? Really, Matt, Ron, Don; I’d like to hear what your practical low cost solutions are for the gridlock that Sound Transit is trying to address. I understand and share your anger about car tabs but what is the solution?


    1. One way to frame discussion is to ask “Are we islands, or a society? Are we consumer units or community/” This will be deeply unpopular, but America is changing and population is steadily increasing. Do we adapt, do we plan for the future? Do we make some sacrifices for the greater good and the future?”

      I’m not happy with the tax on my new Volvo, but less unhappy when I reflect that those taxes help build better community transport and contribute to cleaner air.

      Whether the money is spent efficiently is another question, but I challenge myself to try to think is terms of the commons and the community, as well as the future.


    2. My primary problem with it is the unrealistic values for the car tabs. Fix that, with rebates for the past few years, and I’m ok with it.


    3. Rails are failing accross America. The solution is “not rails”.

      It’s not just my opinion, but rail is only viable when underground. I am a transportation engineer, and this is well known but not often said. If we build rail, build a subway. We need heavy rail actually, to reduce our reliance on trucking. Trucks do almost 100% of the damage to the roads. A truck collapsed a bridge in Mount Vernon recently. Theres an immediate need here.

      Why build leading into a recession? Even if light rail were a good idea, now is the worst time to do it. The best alternative is to maintain the roads we have, because maintenance is always negleglected during bear economies.

      We should also recall and impeach the people who stole from us. Marco… Strom…


        1. I own an aviation engineering company. My designs and software are in aircraft ranging from King Airs, to KC-46 and 787, to military transports such as C-21 and C-130’s. There is no license to design aircraft.


  6. Thank you to Marko Liias and the Transportation Committee for this compromise. The reduced, more realistic valuation will be much more fair. I voted for the RTA, and against the recent Initiative to challenge that RTA tax. But I did not expect the valuation to be based upon new car prices five years later. In 2019 I paid $1221 in just the RTA tax portion of my registration for two cars. My 2014 car is five years old and over 100,000 miles. What is that really worth? I want the RTA system, but feel my share of that cost is too high.


  7. The above comments still don’t talk about viable low cost solutions to traffic and gridlock. They pretty much just say don’t tax me and light rail is no good.

    Matt, what makes underground light rail viable but above ground not viable? Underground certainly can’t cost less or does it? You seem to know things the rest of us don’t. Seriously, I’m open minded about all of this and trying to approach it from a non-ideological viewpoint.

    Nathanial’s comments are helpful in analyzing all this I think. We are just short years, maybe even months, away from drastic changes in work and transportation in our society as a whole. A. I. will soon wipe out thousands of truck driving jobs and our town cars for sure will become self driving (possibly moving in never ending loops like jump on and off cable cars of San Francisco) Thousands more people will become unemployed due to the advances of A.I. in retail, wholesale and manufacturing. Will we even need light rail 10 or 15 years after we build it?

    The way I see it, there are two ways of looking at our human problems and solving them. You can take the every man for himself super competitive approach or you can take the were all in this together cooperative approach. My own feeling is that if we don’t learn how to solve things by co operating and helping each other, an awful lot of folks are in for a pretty miserable existence in the not too distant future. Rugged individualism only seems to work well when there aren’t too many individuals. It seems to me like over population and technology are on a collision course. I sure hope I’m wrong.


    1. China has figured out transportation better than us. Cars and roads are like goldfish in goldfish bowls. The more roads, the more traffic there we will be. One always grows to fill the space of another. Toll roads puts a market price on this which helps determine need, and can appropriate costs. Train tickets should pay for trains, not car tabs. We need multi-mode transportation systems. Light rails seem to only work in cities that grew around the rail infrastructure (like subways). Rails built on top of an existing transportation infastructure is a bandaid at best, but worse if its a system that hurts other viable options by taking the space and money. Rail might be the only of many modes not viable for this area. The cities need to de-zoned, we need to live closer to work, we need smaller cars, bigger trucks and big buses need to be removed from the surface streets. More pedestrians, more bikes, more smaller cars, more cub-side shuttles, fewer big buses. This cant practically be centrally planned. China **privatized** transportation systems. Seattle actually drove out curb-side bussing companies that were run by chinese immigrants, even.

      People drive too much here. Artificially high housing prices are causing lots of people to drive far to get a house they can afford. There has NOT been a population boom in this area. Theres been steady growth for decades but no boom. The bear market will drastically reduce the sprawl.


    2. To be more susinct too, subways work because the city grew around the subway instead of the other way around. Above ground rails are a retrofit which disrupts the existing organic city layout. Subways also contribute to density whereas light rail above ground encourages delays and increase sprawl as they compete for space with other modes.

      Metro-based, curbside busses could really impact transportation here. We should get rid of the big buses and the unions, narrow the lanes and even take over the bus lanes by allowing private curb-side pickup and drop off.


  8. Great comments Matt. It’s obvious you have put a lot of thought into what you think works and what doesn’t. Your reference to China is pretty interesting. I just read elsewhere on line that China is now the No. 1 economy in the world and predicted to maintain that status. We are currently the No. 2 economy and predicted to become the No. 3 economy by 2030 with India taking our place at No.2. It’s notable that we have shipped a lot of our jobs to India to access their much cheaper yet very educated and capable labor force. China, being a communist country where the government has the final say in everything (what is public and what is private as you note) could be said to be based on a co-operative model to get things done for the greater good. The Chinese communist government also has the power of life and death over the individual with all descent being crushed sooner or later.

    I’m not sure where all this leaves us, but it is obvious to me that we are going to have to figure out better ways to accommodate a larger population in terms of housing, transportation and a good living standard for all. The way we are headed, I think we are going to see more and more people begging in the streets. On top of that our technology is developing at such a breakneck speed that we can’t keep up with it. Our “things” are obsolete before we even buy them. If you aren’t well educated and tech smart you will be screwed in the future world unless mechanisms are put in place by society to help you cope.


      1. That’s true, US is the #1 economy by far.

        Emerging economies are a huge threat to us. Africa is becoming China’s China, and we will be cut from that consumer-producer as those rolls are reversed. The petro-dollar is the only thing keeping us in the global economic equation, that and we have one of the few remaining central banks. In this next market turn there will be no one who wants open boarders as our economy will need to transition back from service-based to production based. We must make stuff again to survive. Our GDP is high because we provide services to each other and sell each other our own houses. That’s like having an appliance whose only purpose is to change it’s own batteries.


    1. Clinton,

      I think it’s a misunderstanding to believe that if you aren’t well-educated and tech smart you will be screwed in the future. We will always need plumbers, electricians, welders, and other jobs that require different types of education and may not be tech smart, at least the way I think you mean: tied to a job with a computer. I am well-educated and tech smart, but there are a number of things I won’t do, even with the YouTube video to show me. 🙂


  9. I tried to re-find the web article referring to the predicted size of world economies by 2030 but could not. Anyway it was a projection. Looking at other sights confirms that as of now U.S. is quite a bit ahead in GDP of China which is second in the world by individual country. The projection was that the U.S. will become 3rd behind China and India.

    From what I have been reading, open boarders are actually a scapegoat for the displacement of workers by A.I. The folks coming across our Southern border are generally coming for low status, low tech jobs that traditionally long term citizens don’t want to take (food picking, house cleaning, yard work, nursing home and elder care etc.).

    When my wife was in an adult care facility before she passed, the facility was staffed by mostly African workers here on long term work visas. Most of them worked at least two jobs, sometimes three. They would work part time at a large nursing home to get health benefits and full time at the adult family home. Most of them were sending large sums of money back to Africa to support relatives there. They live here communally in large apartments in the less expensive parts of King and Pierce Co.s and primarily used public transit to go everywhere.


  10. I think the conversation has gotten a little adrift away from things Edmonds. Maybe we could refocus a little on local matters again, please.


  11. Excuse me. I didn’t know we are limited to only conversation that certain individuals approve of. I’ll try to remember that in the future.

    This all began as criticism of our local Rep., Mr. Lias for his attempt to solve a statewide problem. So, I would argue, Mr. Pence, that this never was an article limited to “things” Edmonds. I would remind everyone that no one has to read any of these comments or take any of this seriously.


    1. I’m the King of Over-Digression. I knight thee Clint, Duke of Digression.

      Let’s all enjoy that Roger’s input to the conversion was to limit conversation. He runs a tight ship, likes these comments in order.


  12. Point taken, Mr. Wright. I thought perhaps we had strayed a bit with commentary about the relative strengths of the Chinese and American economies.


    1. It’s super relevant from the perspective that China is privatizing transportation systems and it’s having a positive effect, while we’re socializing systems and it requires theft, deception, overturning of democracy, and cronyism.


  13. So, we agree (?) Communist China is a secret bastion of Capitalism and Capitalist USA is a secret bastion of Socialism ( or Communism in Trump Speak).

    I think we have stumbled onto the answer for all. An intelligent application of both “isms” to solve our problems. Oh, I forgot that would require discussion and compromise. Silly of me to think that could ever work.


  14. One of the often stated goals of mass transit is to provide services to people who do not rely on a car for every family member. The implication is there will be greater density around transit stations. Matt points out subways are some times built after density is already in place. Lower cost living space is often associated with such density. “They are already there, so build it”

    Our model for mass transit is quit different. “Build it they will come” Simply announce it and the land speculators start purchasing land. Then we change the zoning codes and allow for far greater density than was there before the announcements. Demand for housing is great by the stations, developers got the land below the new market rate, build units that rent easily for “market rate” and they generate a very good profit. Cheap land was the profit driver. Zoning added additional value. There may even be Govt incentives in place like MFTE that lowers the tax bill for up to 12 years in exchange of some token reduction of rents. Typically MFTE gives a tax break of more than double the rent reduction.

    Just look at what has happened around or light rail stations north of the U district, Northgate, MLT and now Lynnwood.

    The profit motive is basically a good way to allocate resources but windfall profits driven by govt action is simply taking advantage of govts inability create systems that benefit the public good.


  15. I would strongly argue against the concept of the ” gov’ts inability to create systems that benefit the public good.” I don’t think I’m taking this quote out of context, Darrol, but forgive me if I am. This is just a tired old meme of the right and ultra right that the government can’t do anything right. It is fair to say that the government sometimes gets it wrong and it is fair to say that free enterprise (profit motive) sometimes gets it wrong, but to suggest that the government is always responsible for compounding our problems is as absurd as to say that the profit motive is always responsible for all our social problems or that it always solves all our social problems.

    I think there is a very good argument that concepts like Social Security and Medicare are government programs that have served our society pretty well. (If SS is failing,, it is because we live too long now, not necessarily because it was a bad idea). If we didn’t have Medicare, thousands upon thousands of older people would be filing for bankruptcy due to medical bills.

    More to the subject at hand. Almost all of our public transportation systems are government run. We’ve tried private bus and ferry systems but they generally fail because the available fees won’t cover the actual costs (not enough users to make it pay). If the government wasn’t running our ferry system (a form of public transit) the actual cost to go from Edmonds to Kingston would be more in the $40 to $50 range each way. The original ferry fleets were all private and they have all pretty much failed to survive.

    We actually have pretty good bus systems. The bus and rail systems are exponentially cheaper than driving your own car into Seattle or Everett. I can walk two blocks from my house and end up in Tacoma for a pretty reasonable sum of money. It’s just so much more convenient to jump in the car and drive right to one’s destination. We make choices if we have the means. Poor folks use public transit and generally like it. More well to do folks use the ferry system, complain about the cost (highly subsidized by the public), but generally really like it too.


    1. What other than welfare and warfare has the government done well? The Obamacare website cost more than the moon landing. The moon landing was a warfare project. The DNC couldn’t even make an app for the caucus, let alone design the rest of the economy.

      High medical bills are because government spending is more than half of the private market (most healthcare is already single payer). Norway pays even more than we do on healthcare. People wouldn’t be bankrupt from medical bills if healthcare were cheaper. Having a suspicious lump cut out of a breast can be bankrupting, while getting breast implants can be put on a credit card.

      Single lump removal for $20k:

      Dual lump installation for $5k:

      “The bus and rail systems are exponentially cheaper than driving your own car into Seattle or Everett”
      ^^No way. I drove a friend to work. It took us 30 minutes. It took him an hour and a half (sometimes 2 hours) to make the same commute via bus. He didn’t want a car mostly because he didn’t want to spend time with his family and the bus was how he unwound after work without them bothering him. Weird, but not to digress, say he made minimum wage, and he could work an hour more per day, and [say] work another 4-5 hours per week, that’s an extra $270+ dollars per month he’d have for a car. My friend made about $50/hour. Per rider-mile (costs including subsidies, infrastructure costs, out of service expenses), it might be cheaper to pay for each rider to uber to work than keep the buses and the unions going. Seattle needs a free market shuttle busing system, like the ones they outlawed in the 1980’s.

      Poor people want a car, and are more likely to bum a ride from a car owner than use mass transit.


    2. Clint, you did take my statement out of context. “The profit motive is basically a good way to allocate resources but windfall profits driven by govt action is simply taking advantage of govts inability create systems that benefit the public good.” While I should have added more to my statement to point out what I was talking about, I did not intend to talk about govt ability to build light rail or other transportation systems. What I was talking about was “windfall profits” and gov’t inability to have a system that manages these profits for the public good. That is not ultra right, it is ultra left! Not easy to explain in quick terms but try this. Land along the yet to be announced lite rail line. corridor. $100,000 per acre. Announce the pathway and the stations. Under the line, govt condemns the land and pays $100,000. Land impacted by noise now may go down in value. But land right near the proposed station is now worth $1m per acre. It is more valuable because someone is planning a development with a bunch of units. There is a windfall profit of $900k! If the buyer does the development and rents for market price “windfall”. If the buyer sells for $1m then “windfall” If govt were to have bought it at the same time they were planning they could have sold it and pocketed the “windfall” for the public good, or sold it for $100,000 with incentives to the developer to build cheaper housing. That would be public good. My point was to discuss the windfall profit not the rail line itself. Govt creates windfall profits all the time with its policies. The MFTE for example reduces taxes for 12 years and only requires the developer to give about 30-40% of the reduction to reducing rents. We could subsidize more housing with just collecting the tax and giving that money back in the form of a voucher.

      PS. I think the ferry boats themselves are considered an extension of the highway system. The fare box for ferries pays upwards to 90+% of the operating costs.


  16. My limited research on the ferry system indicates that the goal is for the fares to reach 90+ % of the cost of operation over time with fare increases. I think it is now in the 70 to 80% range but none of these figures include the costs of replacement of old ferries and redoing terminals which is astronomical. By comparison the cost of the private ferry to Martha’s Vinyard is well over $100 per car. WA. Ferries is considered a part of the Highway system which the folks in Spokane can really relate to I’m sure.

    This is it for me on this topic. I’m starting to bore myself. My lady friend and my pals all think I’m pretty much looney with most of my comments. I think Mr. Pence above has the right idea after all. You are all really great people in my book.


  17. Listening to “Bald and Bankrupt”, which is an amazing podcast. Rick Steves has nothing on this guy.
    @2:30 She asks why the stores in Cuba are empty. – Because of SOcialism? Later, socialism no, Communism. Leninist Communism.

    My family traveled to Portland this weekend and went to a food truck park, which was capitalism on full display. There were dozens of trucks, loosely regulated (if at all), operated by start-ups, offering the best food perhaps in the country, ordered-up by close-minded hippies that want socialism.


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