On the Hot Seat: Tim Eyman is pushing $30 car tabs, again

Initiative guru Tim Eyman is at it again. And once again, he’s trying to save you money.
If you’re anywhere near my age, you’ll know who he is. If not, you may know him as the man who pushed through limits on the state’s ability to continually raise taxes and fees on vehicle licensing.
In full disclosure, I’m a fan of Tim’s efforts. Simply put, he’s saved taxpayers millions of dollars by restraining state government’s ever-increasing thirst for tax dollars.
This time, around, Tim’s statewide initiative, 976, is targeting local government, too. At the heart of Initiative 976 is a plan to cap and reset license plate tab fees back to $30.
His plan is nothing new, and it’s been backed by voters overwhelmingly each time its made the ballot. But state government and the state Supreme Court always find someway to dismiss the will of the people.
On Nov. 2, 1999, voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 695, which capped tab fees at $30 for the first time. About a year later — after state government challenged the will of the people by filing a lawsuit — the state Supreme Court ruled the measure unconstitutional.
Shortly thereafter, lawmakers again allowed heftier fees and taxes on vehicle licensing.
With the will of the Washington electorate behind him, Eyman took the state to task again. And on Nov. 5, 2002, voters passed Initiative 776, which reset and capped license-tab fees to a maximum of $30 for vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
This time, Sound Transit (Western Washington’s transportation taxing authority) challenged the will of voters. Again, the Supreme Court nixed the $30 tabs.
Stung twice by Eyman, the Legislature left the tab fees issue alone. Initially, tabs remained at $30 in most areas of the state as officials honored the will of the people.
But it didn’t take too long before local governments decided to test the tab-tax waters. And slowly but surely, municipal taxing authorities started levying fees and taxes on top of the $30 tab.
During that time, Eyman has been busy getting many other initiatives on the ballot in an effort to restrict government’s overbearing taxes. But he never took his eye off the $30 ball. And watching a myriad of new taxes and fees being added to license tabs, Eyman re-entered the fray a couple years back.
Last week, he overcame the signature hurdle required to get the issue back on the ballot before voters this coming November. Submitting about 350,000 signatures, he only needed 260,000 validated by the Secretary of State’s Office — he more than qualified.
As a rural resident with a pickup truck and a car, I’m glad he did. Getting to the point, I-976 will save me money personally. And if you own a vehicle, it will save you money, too.
About 60 municipalities in the state currently levy a tax or fee on license plates and renewal tabs. A number of others — including several in Eastern Washington like Colville, Sunnyside and others — are toying with the idea of charging you more to have a vehicle on the streets you already pay for.
And cities are getting creative on how they go about jacking up the price. There are vehicle-weight, filing, registration, technology, processing, transportation and more fees and taxes. If it keeps going, someday there will likely be sky-is-blue fees and taxes.
Enough is enough.
It’s time voters take back control of local government tax and fee creep. Eyman wants voters to remind public employees — yes, even elected ones — that you already told them twice that $30 is enough.
Under our state’s initiative process, I-976 has one of three futures:
1. The Legislature can enact the measure as law.
2. Lawmakers can put the measure on the ballot and let voters decide its fate next November.
3. Lawmakers can pass their own competing measure and put it on the ballot side-by-side with I-976.
Given the options, you don’t have to wait until November to have a say in the tab-tax issue — contact legislators in Olympia now to tell them to pass the measure into law.
Historically, the $30 license cap has strong voter support. And with Tim collecting at least 50 percent more signatures than he needed, there’s no reason to believe support has eroded.
Failing to pass this into law now only costs taxpayers money, not just in election costs, but also in court challenges that are sure to come from agencies that want more of your hard-earned money.

— Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of the Statesman-Examiner and Deer Park Tribune. Email him at rharnack@statesmanexaminer.com.