Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman holds a sign supporting Initiative 976, which would cut most car registration tabs to $30 in Washington state, Tuesday on election day in Bellevue. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman holds a sign supporting Initiative 976, which would cut most car registration tabs to $30 in Washington state, Tuesday on election day in Bellevue. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

$30 car tab measure passing, billions could be cut

By Lisa Baumann

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — State and local governments could end up scrambling to pay for road paving and other transportation projects as a Washington state measure that would cut car tabs to $30 was passing in early returns.

Sponsored by Tim Eyman, the measure would cap most taxes paid through annual vehicle registration at $30 and largely revoke the authority of state and local governments to add new taxes and fees without voter approval.

Initiative 976 was being approved by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin after the first votes were tallied Tuesday in the all-mail election.

Voters in King County, the state’s most populous, were rejecting I-976 as was Jefferson County but many other counties — including Clallam — were approving it by healthy margins. Vote counting will continue for days.

The measure also would repeal taxes and fees that were already in place, which could cost the state and local governments more than $4 billion in revenue over the next six years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

State officials have said that passage of I-976 threatens many infrastructure projects, including the planned replacement of the Elwha Bridge that connects Forks to Port Angeles as well as the East Sequim U.S. Highway 101 Corridor project. Both the Jefferson and Clallam transit authorities opposed it.

Eyman has said people are fed up with rising car tab costs.

Just before the first votes were tallied, Eyman claimed victory, saying just getting the initiative on the ballot was a win.

However, a large group of businesses including Microsoft and Amazon, as well as labor unions, waged a nearly $5 million campaign in opposition, saying the state needs car tab dollars to maintain a safe and effective transportation system.

Joanne Lind, 60, of Tumwater dropped her ballot off at the drop box outside of Olympia City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. She said she voted no on I-976.

“I feel like people who own cars should help pay for the infrastructure,” she said.

More than 60 cities use car-tab fees to pay for road construction, bus service and sidewalks. The state also charges fees to help pay for programs including State Patrol traffic enforcement, highway maintenance, ferry operations and maintenance of county roads and bridges.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other government leaders have been vocal in their opposition and over a half-dozen city councils passed resolutions against it. The city of Olympia also sent a mailer urging people to vote no which the state Public Disclosure Commission said it would investigate because state law prohibits city councils from using public resources to promote or oppose measures.

Eyman is also using the initiative to try to undo a car-tab fee hike collected by Sound Transit in the Puget Sound region, which uses a method of vehicle valuation that inflates some car values. Voters approved the increase as part of a light-rail expansion package in 2016 for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Eyman’s $30 car tab initiative first passed 20 years ago. It was struck down in court before being enacted by lawmakers. The fees have crept up in recent years as lawmakers allowed them and voters approved them.

Eyman’s latest measure comes as he fights a campaign finance lawsuit filed against him by Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Eyman has been held in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with court rules while a judge has ordered a for-profit signature-gathering firm to pay more than $1 million for deceiving state residents by funneling their campaign donations to Eyman for his personal use.

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