The Senate Transportation Committee completed the first half of its work for this session with its final meeting to pass out senate bills this afternoon. The only bill among the ten on the agenda that didn’t get bipartisan unanimity to move forward was Substitute Senate Bill 5955, dealing with Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax (car tab) relief.
The committee substitute bill, crafted by Committee Chair Steve Hobbs (D – Lake Stevens), in the form of a striker amendment, would provide the car tab relief, including retroactive credits, as laid out under the original bill, but under a timeline that would minimize administrative costs for the Department of Licensing.
To begin making Sound Transit whole, Section 5 of the striker amendment bill would defer payments from Sound Transit into the $518 million education fund called for in ST3’s enabling legislation until the ST Board passes a resolution affirming that paying into that fund would not impact delivery of ST3 projects.
Still, Chair Hobbs said the “delta” between the car tab reductions hit to ST3 funding and the additional revenue for ST from alternative means had not reached zero. Sound Transit has estimated its direct revenue loss at $780 million, and total hit due to financing costs rising eventually to $2.3 billion, based on the original version of the bill.
Sen. Marko Liias (D – Edmonds) tacked on an amendment to Hobbs’ striker amendment, as follows:
Any project permit requirement adopted by a county does not apply to a regional transit authority light rail project, located in the unincorporated area of the county, if the project is part of a system plan approved by the voters of the regional transit authority after January 1, 2016, …
Per Liias, the three counties did not object, and the amendment would “enshrine this understanding” not to hit up Sound Transit for additional permitting costs. Liias’ amendment passed by voice vote.
Sen. Steve O’Ban (R – University Place) proposed a striker amendment of his own to replace the bill with the text from his SB 6303. He then proposed a pair of amendments to take out the education funding deferment. All of his amendments failed on party-line voice votes.
Sen. Phil Fortunato (R – Auburn) proposed an amendment to Liias’ amendment, to exempt all WSDOT projects from county permitting requirements. Chair Hobbs did not rule the amendment out of the bill’s scope, but commented that while intriguing, it was out of scope, and let it fail on party-line voice vote.
The substitute bill consisting of Hobbs’ striker amendment with Liias’ corollary thrown in passed by a mostly party-line 8-7 voice vote, with Ranking Minority Member Curtis King (R – Yakima) joining the 8-7 majority in favor, and Democrats Maralyn Chase (Shoreline) and Committee Vice Chair Rebecca Saldaña (Seattle) voting No. The seven No votes all signed the Minority Report to refer the bill to Rules without recommendation. (The post has been updated to correctly reflect the vote tally.)
SSB 5955 moves to the Senate Rules Committee next, and has until February 14 to pass out of the Senate.