State senator calls Sound Transit ‘dishonest’ over car tab fee debacle

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SEATTLE – State Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, said it’s time to hold Sound Transit accountable for a formula they’re using to collect taxes on ST3.

“They shouldn’t be dishonest,” said Rossi, referring to Sound Transit.

The state’s formula that was approved by lawmakers and has been in use since the 1990s has recently come under fire after multiple reports of higher-than-expected ST3 car tab fees.

“They are using this phony, dishonest valuation method which is based on manufactured suggested retail price instead of what the car is really worth,” said Rossi. “They are charging a minimum of 20 percent more, to well over a 100 percent more, than they should be charging.”

Sound Transit Board member and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus said on Thursday there’s no reason voters who approved ST3 should be surprised about the cost of tabs.

“There were many, many opportunities for public outreach, there were many opportunities for people to go online and see what the value of their car is and how that would impact them financially,” she said. “I really take exception to the fact that we tried to do this as some might say in a backroom way, we were very transparent.”

Rossi said just because the calculated fees have been collected for years does not mean it should continue, now that valuation errors have been discovered.

“They could refinance those bonds, they could do it. But then they have no excuse,” said Rossi.

Lowermycartabs.com is one petition that is hoping to replace the state’s values for cars with something like Kelley Blue Book figures. Rossi is putting forward a bill that would do just that.

“That’s not what we’re trying to do is completely overturn this,” he said about ST3. “We’re trying to get fairness into this. It really will be based upon the value of your car.”

Rossi said Sound Transit is not in favor of the bill, citing hefty costs associated with the change. “They said it would cost them $6 billion, $6 billion. So I said, thank you Sound Transit for letting us know how much money you are stealing from the public. I appreciate that.”

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said $6 billion was the estimate for one of the proposed bills that would change the state’s valuation system. Those costs aren’t what Sound Transit is taking additionally from taxpayers, he said, but an estimate of penalties that would come with refinancing and new interest rate prices, in addition to lost revenues.

It doesn’t change the amount that taxpayers would owe on ST3, it would just stretch out how long they pay for it.

Rogoff said Rossi’s plan is easier said than done.

“If you go to Kelley Blue Book now to find out the value of your car, two of the things you have to put in is mileage of your car and condition of your car, so are we going to have an annual inspection of every car to figure out what it’s condition is? Are we going to have an annual odometer check?

"More importantly, going to Kelley Blue Book would cost the agency considerable amounts of money that the voters have pledged to use to build out our system. Congestion in our region has only doubled in five years, it’s only going to get worse before we can build out these projects.”

Rossi said he is hoping his bill will be heard before the legislative session ends at the end of April.