Thurston County Commissioners Reject Car Tax Hike

Published December 1, 2007

In a welcome surprise for taxpayers in Washington State’s Thurston County, county commissioners decided not to enact a $20 surcharge on top of the current $30 state registration fee for vehicles. These fees are commonly referred to as car tabs.

The $20 surcharge was authorized by the legislature earlier this year to allow local governments to exceed the $30 maximum twice adopted by voters. Thurston County commissioners considered the surcharge in September and rejected it.

In 1999, Initiative 695, sponsored by good-government advocate and private citizen Tim Eyman, sought to reduce the state’s vehicle registration fee to a maximum of $30. After being adopted by voters, I-695 was thrown out by the state supreme court. But it was soon put into law by the legislature.

Surcharges Creep In

Over the years, however, the legislature has allowed local governments to enact car tab surcharges. This led to I-776, another Eyman-sponsored initiative adopted by voters in 2002. I-776 again required $30 car tabs and repealed the local surcharges. Nevertheless, the legislature this year reauthorized local governments to enact up to a $20 surcharge without voter approval.

At least in Thurston County, the $30 car tabs will remain for now. County Chief Administration Officer Don Krupp told the Olympian newspaper, “The board is not inclined to rush into putting any additional fees on citizens.”

Eyman said in response, “The Thurston County Council decided to abide by the voters’ double decision on $30 vehicle tabs–that’s good. But if any city council in Thurston refuses to follow the county’s lead and decides to disregard the voters by unilaterally jacking up tabs $20 without a vote of the people, tell me when the hearing on that ordinance is because I want to testify and make all of you famous. Voters deserve to know that you’re circumventing their repeated decision to keep tabs at $30.”

The Washington Policy Center, a Seattle-based think tank, applauded the Thurston County Commissioners’ decision.

“It is encouraging that Thurston County Commissioners have decided not to increase the already-high tax burden on their constituents,” said Paul Guppy, vice president of research for the Washington Policy Center. “Holding the line on tax increases helps local government use the money they currently collect more efficiently.”

Jason Mercier ([email protected]) is director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center in Seattle, Washington.