Voters, not Council, should decide fate of vehicle tab fee increases
August 28, 2008 · Updated 2:07 PM
Marysville is joining a number of cities who, along with the Snohomish County Council, are in the early stages of considering the formation of a Transportation Benefit District to raise funds for roadwork. The TBD could increase vehicle license tab fees by as much as $20 without voter approval, and more than $20 with voter approval.
Most people would agree that additional funding for road projects in the area is desperately needed. The estimated $650,000 generated annually for Marysville by a $20 increase could be used in a number of ways by the city. It could offer a significant increase over the $1 million spent in 2007 by the city in its asphalt overlay program and annual road maintenance program. Or it could be used to help fund a small portion of some of the projects included in the citys Six-year Transportation Improvement Plan. The question isnt whether the money is needed or how it could be used. The question is who should decide if the money should be collected by increasing vehicle license tab fees.
Washington has a long history of the voters trying to limit the cost of car tabs. Voters, in 1999, approved I-695 which limited car tabs to $30. When I-695 was overturned by the courts in 2000, Gov. Gary Locke and the legislature acted to approve $30 car tabs. Then, in 2002, voters approved I-776 which repealed vehicle taxes and fees exceeding $30 and said that any vehicle tab charges more than $30 must be approved by the voters. In 2005, Gov. Christine Gregoire and the legislature passed a bill that required a public vote for any increase in local vehicle charges. But that all changed in 2007 when the Governor signed legislation which would allow Washington counties and cites to impose a vehicle fee of as much as $20 without voter approval. It is that last legislation, that Snohomish County, Marysville and other local cities are considering using to increase tab fees to fund road work.
It is clear that the voters have spoken and what they have said is that they, not the elected officials, should have the final say on whether or not to increase vehicle license tab fees.
The Marysville City Council has listened to the voters before. In 2001, voters overwhelming approved Initiative 747 imposing a 1 percent cap annually on increases in state and local property tax collections. Every year since then, during the annual budget cycles, the Council has proclaimed they heard the voters and have not increased property taxes. They should also hear the repeated calls from the voters demanding $30 vehicle tabs and insisting that any increases should be approved by the voters, not elected officials.
The Marysville City Council should consider all avenues for increasing funding for local road improvements and maintenance. If they decide an idea like a Transportation Benefit District has merit, they should present it to their constituents and have the confidence in the plan to let them decide. Voters have clearly stated that they want the final say in any vehicle tab fee increase and the Council should respect that. Any increase in vehicle tab fees, whether it is below the $20 threshold or not, should be sent to the voters and members of the Marysville City Council should pledge to do just that before proceeding any further with the consideration of a TBD.
To contact a member of The Marysville Globe/Arlington Times editorial board Kris Passey or Scott Frank