I still have my Initiative 695 T-shirt.
Maybe you remember I-695, the ballot measure that easily passed in November of 1999 and set vehicle tabs at $30.
And while the measure was ultimately declared unconstitutional for covering more than one subject, then-Gov. Gary Locke and the Legislature heard loud and clear that state voters were tired of the ever-increasing fees just to license a vehicle.
The more things change, the more they are the same.
Fast forward to this year. Initiative guru Tim Eyman has a new plan to reset the fees to $30. Supporters, including many right here in Yakima and other Eastern Washington counties, are collecting signatures for Eyman’s reset, Initiative 947. He has again tapped into the voter anger over exorbitant and increasing costs and fees.
And with many municipal agencies now taking advantage of the current law — and motorists — Eyman may have timed the reset perfectly.
Current state law has a tiered base fee for vehicle licensing. The state levies a base fee of $25 for most smaller cars weighting less than 4,000 pounds, $45 for larger family-size vehicles of up to 6,000 pounds and $65 for a pickup weighing less than 8,000 pounds. Motorhomes can be licensed for a flat $75 fee, with commercial vehicle licensing costing even more.
And that’s just the beginning.
The state tacks on a variety of fees for electric vehicle registration, farm exempt decals, fixed load-motor vehicles, recreational vehicle sanitary disposal, intermittent-use trailers, change of class and others.
And don’t forget, just about every business or agency that sells vehicle tabs also charges processing and other fees. Heck, the state even charges additional fees if you handle your own tab renewal online through a website that’s already paid for.
Then there are also fees for farm equipment, licensing off-road vehicles, boats, trailers, campers, dock and warehouse tractors, lumber haulers, mobile homes and the list goes on. And some of those vehicles never hit a taxpayer-owned street.
Those fees come after you’ve already spent much, much more just to have a licensed vehicle.
There are filing and service fees just for filing, a license plate technology, a license service, a parking ticket surcharge, report of sale, etc. Then there are title-related fees for applications, emergency medical services, stolen vehicle check, VIN inspections, transfers and more. The state levies additional fees for original plate issuance, replacement, personalization, specialty plate, government vehicles and more.
For ruralites east of the Cascades, the fees to license a family pickup truck can cost more than $100. In the Seattle-Tacoma area where people can make $15 per hour to work at a McDonalds, that may not sound like a lot of money. But here, east of the Cascades where many residents live on minimum-wage salaries, that’s quite a chunk of change.
The tab licensing fee issue has recently popped up in Sunnyside, where officials say if the city doesn’t up the cost for vehicle licensing, some larger jurisdiction — like Yakima County — will. City officials have said if it adds a license tab fee, more of the money will stay in town.
That’s little consolation to the seasonal workers who live here, particularly when many farm and orchard jobs are wrapping up for the fall.
I’ve put a call in to the state Departments of Revenue and Licensing on the issue. And I’ve asked for public records on how much revenue tab fees collected in local jurisdiction raises, as well as what specifically can all that money be used for.
On the other side of the state, the money is being used for public transit and ferries, among other things. Here’s a thought — since most of us east of the Cascades rarely use ferries, why not let ferry customers pay more for the fleet serving Puget Sound.
It stands to reason that vehicle licensing fees should help pay for transportation improvements. Why then do we still have substandard bridges in many rural parts of Eastern Washington? I would’ve thought that would’ve been a high priority for funds in our part of the state.
I guess we’ll see what the state says when those agencies are able to get back to me with actual dollar amounts.
In the meantime, I’m going to side with Eyman on this one.
— Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Daily Sun. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.