Sen. Patty Kuderer

On Friday, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D – Clyde Hill) submitted a bill that would offer a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET, or “car tab”) market-value adjustment to low-income car owners, for the portion of their car tabs going to Sound Transit. Senate Bill 5075 would offer a discount based on the difference between the MVET valuation formula used in 1996, when ST1 included an MVET as one of its revenue sources, and the formula devised by the Legislature in 2006 that won’t take effect until all ST1 bonds are paid off.

Since the older formula values newer cars at a higher rate than the newer formula does only for cars less than 10 years old, the bill specifies that only cars less than 10 years old would qualify for the discount. “Low-income” would be defined as less than 200% of the federal poverty level, the same level used for ORCA LIFT qualification.

The discount would only be retroactive to January 1 of this year. Discounts would start being offered at the time of payment starting July 1. Those paying before then would get to claim a credit on their next MVET payment starting September 1.

Sen. Steve O’Ban

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve O’Ban (R – University Place) has submitted four bills that would have a less surgical impact on Sound Transit revenue. Most are similar to ones he has previously sponsored.

Senate Bill 5037 would set thresholds for triggering a re-vote on ST3, including undefined changes in scope. It appears to be a case where the intent statement does not match the bill language.

The intent statement says:

It is the intent of the legislature that a regional transit authority receive additional approval from voters if the cost to complete a regional transit system plan approved by voters in 2016 increases beyond fifty-four billion dollars or any additions or subtractions of projects or significant project scope when compared to the system plan are made.

The intent statement doesn’t specify year of expenditure. It is also difficult to discern how the convoluted bill language leads to fulfilling the intent statement.

SB 5042 brings back the non-workable idea of basing motor vehicle excise taxes (MVETs) on Kelley Blue Book valuation or National Automobile Dealers’ Association values, whichever is less. Tabpayers would get a credit for the different valuations retroactive to 2017. The bill still requires completion of the ST3 project list, and invokes other cost-cutting measures to enable completion.

SB 5043 would allow Pierce, Snohomish, or King County, by citizen referendum, to nullify Sound Transit 3 taxes in the county. All voters in the county, not just those living in the Sound Transit taxing district, would get to sign the referendum petition, and vote on it. The bill requires defeasance of bond debt where possible, but is silent on whether any ST3 projects would have to be completed.

SB 5044 would allow Pierce, Snohomish, or King County, by citizen referendum, to nullify all Sound Transit taxes in the county. Like SB 5043, it would allow all voters in a county to sign the petition and vote on the proposition. The bill is silent on whether a successful vote in Pierce County, where ST3 narrowly lost, would trigger a shutdown of South Sounder service, ST Express bus service in the county, and Tacoma Link.

Sen. O’Ban’s office did not get back to me regarding questions on these bills as of publication time.

49 Replies to “Kuderer Proposes Low-Income MVET Discount”

  1. Generally, I’ve noticed people living in Pierce County don’t like paying for government services.

    It’s disappointing, but not surprising. Looking forward to moving out of Pierce back to Seattle.

    1. What I’ve noticed is people willing to pay, but only if they see a tangible benefit. How good is the Sound Transit service in Pierce County? What service is being offered? I suppose if you are in the very narrow segment of the population who happens to live close to DT Puyallup, Sumner, or Tacoma, and commutes to DT Seattle, it’s a benefit. If you live in any other part of the county and/or have a job in any other location, Sound Transit is useless. The system has been systematically designed to provide Seattle-centric service. That doesn’t help people working at the Port of Tacoma or Pierce County’s industrial parks, or Tacoma’s local business districts, or living in affordable neighborhoods scattered throughout the county. Maybe if ST sweetened the deal by offering bus service equivalent to what Redmond, Renton, Kent, and Bellevue got in the very early days of ST1, it might be different.

      I think the bottom line is that people here are tired of paying for a service that has no hope of providing them any sort of direct or indirect service, any time in the foreseeable future. Where’s the transit line to the Port or the Fife industrial parks? Where’s the transit line to the Sumner, Pacific, & Auburn industrial parks? If, like O’Ban, you live in UP & commute to Olympia (or any neighborhood in Tacoma), what benefit is ST to you? It doesn’t take cars off the road where you drive, and it doesn’t give you a viable alternative to driving.

      Steve O’Ban is off base, but only to the end that he is pushing pretty extreme measures to make ST fail. Keep in mind, he’s only doing it because he’s probably been getting pretty consistent calls from his own constituents that they want out of ST. As much as I want to see an improvement in transit, I’d let Pierce County out of ST in a heartbeat, if we could take that money and allocate it locally, to improvements to our local bus system. A local bus system would actually benefit Pierce County commuters.

      Have fun moving back to Seattle. Must be nice to have that kind of money. Remind me what the median home price is there again? Most Pierce County residents don’t have that kind of money sitting around.

      1. Voting reflect the “does this benefit my neigborhood” mindset – ST3 support was solid both in Tacoma and along the Sounder corridor, and poor elsewhere.

        As for the value for areas outside the corridor, isn’t much of it about freeing up resources? If PT and CT can get out of the “moving commuters to King County job centers” business, they can spend more resources moving people within their counties.

      2. AJ, it is not just, “does this benefit my neighborhood,” but does this benefit my city, at all? University Place, Fircrest, and Steilacoom (combined pop. 42,000) are completely left out of ST. The entire area between I-5 and 161 are completely left out (guessing another 50,000 to 100,000 – unincorporated, so no official populations for the Parkland-Midland-Summit-Waller-Roy-Spanaway-Frederickson area). If you want to try to call that 580 route service, it isn’t because it doesn’t stop, but skips over four freeway exits without so much as a flyer stop. DuPont and Lakewood get sparse, peak-only service to Seattle. I am sorry, but not sorry, it isn’t a neighborhood level issue, it is a county-city level issue. Most of the county doesn’t get any useful level of service.

        I remember riding the 540 and 545 back in the day when I was young and there was affordable housing in Seattle and Bellevue. They were very urban routes, providing what could easily be argued as local service. That 540 ran the streets of Kirkland, stopped at all of the 520 flyer stops, and chugged along the streets of U-District. Meanwhile, voters throughout Pierce County get absolutely nothing for their tax dollars.

        I personally support the mission of ST, but I won’t for a moment argue that these folks have nothing to be upset about.

      3. Between the Sounder extension to DuPont, ST investment in Pacific Ave BRT, and existing STX service, I think suburban Pierce County is reasonably well served. I don’t see people agitating for Skyway, Normandy Park, or Dash Point to be removed from King County’s taxing authority – people understand that a regional project is for regional benefit.

        University Place and Steliacoom’s mayors are both on the Board, I believe, so those political leaders seem to think ST is important enough for their constituents. Pierce County has reasons to include most of their urban growth boundary in their taxing district. I’m sure there are good reasons to adjust the boundary here and there, but ultimately that’s a debate on the margins.

        The point of having a ST taxing district – rather than just countywide funding – was specifically to exclude rural and exburbs that wouldn’t materially benefit. Drawing the boundary somewhere will always be a point of dispute.

      4. Would like to think better of Steve O’Ban. His constituents have always made me welcome at my coffee stops in Steilacoom, and they’ve never once made me feel unwelcome about yielding my two mile an hour space on I-5.

        But compared to the amount of time and tax money- since he’s a State official, I have to pay his wages too- that he’s been spending trying to make life miserable for Sound Transit, I wonder if he fought anywhere near as hard for the regional bus service Dupont and Steilacoom surely do deserve.

        Nowhere near kidding about extending Tacoma Link to replace the streetcars Steilacoom really did use to have. And as variant of the Olympia-Tacoma-Sea-Tac service I think the 574 should become, would back him up on Dupont to Tacoma via Grandview ST Express.

        Only question is, who was first to ask for it, Steve or me? I also don’t for a minute believe that ST-3 as it stands can’t be added to, or at least supplemented. And what about the buses freed up as Link extends?

        Present LINK map owes no apologies. For passenger loads along and beside its tracks, no way buses can serve in any regional capacity. So if his goal really is to give my own favorite driving route the bus service it deserves, my own ORCA card could give his subarea my agency-directed share.

        Up to Steve.

        Mark Dublin

      5. “Between the Sounder extension to DuPont, ST investment in Pacific Ave BRT, and existing STX service, I think suburban Pierce County is reasonably well served.”

        I don’t know southeast Pierce well since I don’t have a car and there’s little transit, but the argument I’ve heard is that “You have to drive an hour to the nearest ST service, and that’s just to the edge of the service.” I don’t know where in Orting or Spanaway it can possibly take an hour to drive to Tacoma Dome, but that’s what they say. (There’s also ST service in Lakewood and Puyallup, which are presumably closer.) In contrast, Dash Point is just a mile or two from Federal Way TC, and Skyway from Rainier Beach, and I don’t remember where Normandy Park is.

        The opponents are perhaps not taking into enough consideration the Pacific Avenue “RapidRide”. How is the most southern and southeast corner of the ST district from the Roy Y? Is it as close as Dash Point or a half-hour drive away? However, they’d probably say that even an upgraded Route 1 is not an express, it would take forty-five minutes to take it from the Roy Y to Tacoma Dome and then it’s still another hour to get to Seattle, so we’re not getting much in proportion to our taxes.

        (And “our taxes” is an interesting point. Since the areas not served by Link/Sounder/STEX are by definition beyond the last urban villages/centers, they’re lower density so not many people live in them, which means they’re not many taxpayers and not much tax revenue. So they can’t expect much.) If you consider all the suburbs outside the city of Tacoma, it’s probably the majority (as King County is to Seattle), but then you also have to subtract the largest cities in it like Lakewood and Puyallup, whcih do have direct ST service, and then suddenly you’re no longer the majority, you’re the tail wagging the dog.)

      6. Also, we are building thousands of parking spots specifically to serve areas not well served by bus service. If ST suddenly decided to build no more parking – which many transit advocates would support – then I think suburban Pierce county would have a much bigger axe to grind.

      7. Normandy Park is between Burien and Des Moines. It’s pretty much just got the 166 and parts of the 123 for transit.

      8. After Tacoma Link reaches Tacoma Community College why not turn it south and run it down Bridgeport Way to the Lakewood Sounder Station?

        and there you go! Pacific Place is served!

      9. “After Tacoma Link reaches Tacoma Community College why not turn it south and run it down Bridgeport Way to the Lakewood Sounder Station?”

        “and there you go! [University] Place is served!”

        TCC won’t come until 2039. So, when do we turn it south? 2049? Most of UP’s voters will be dead by then, and that’s not hyperbole.

    2. There’s a commonality between the pro-ST and pro-PT parts of Pierce and the anti-ST, anti-PT parts. The anti-ST parts get little service from ST, but they’re also the part most resistent to upzones and urban villages that would make it easier and more cost-effective to serve that area with transit and would generate higher ridership. So they’re a kind of no-no-no. And while some people might support ST if it had more direct service in their area, others just don’t want to pay taxes period, or don’t want to pay non-highway taxes. And they may be more numerous, especially if you count not just the activists trying to roll back ST taxes but also voters who aren’t particularly against Sond Transit but reflexively vote against any tax measure. Somebody voted against the carbon tax, and banned soda taxes, and vote against education taxes even though other people vote for smaller class sizes. A lot of them are probably these voters.

      1. Mike,

        You can use one comment to say all these things, instead of 3 replies. :)

        Anyway, I live in Tacoma (for now), and enormous amounts of the locals don’t care to pay taxes for much of anything: roads, schools, etc. There are some good reasons, such as inadequate communication from the government, and other less reasonable reasons, but fundamentally – they don’t like taxes, even if they’ll directly benefit. University Place is sort of the local “fancy suburb”. I am sure that O’Bans constituents love his willingness to fight for their “hard earned” dollar, and not let it go to the local less fortunate.

        Note, this is probably helped to form by the fact that we don’t have an adequately progressive taxation on houses, and house taxes are going up constantly. And, of course, a progressive income tax would substantially help here, in order to shift the burden onto the upper 25% (which I am a member of), and away from the schmucks working their butts off.

        Anyway, Tacoma commuters to Seattle live on the services Sound Transit offers. Enormous numbers of us take the train and bus constantly. Sound Transit does an incredible job.

        Pierce Transit’s work is, frankly, not nearly as good – the routes are long, they don’t cover well, and they don’t link up well. PT confirms in my mind my long-held opinion that cities need city-operated transit systems, since the far exurban & rural people are underserved.

      2. PT is a victim of the fact that the state, suburban politicians, and suburban voters will lavish tax authority on “regional transit” (which they envision as transit on highways or the rail equivalent), but begrudge any increase to their local transit agency. Pierce Transit is in the same boat as Metro, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Skagit Transit, and Intercity Transit: the state won’t let them raise taxes much beyond the current level; they have to beg the legislature for every small increase or project and only sometimes get approved; and voters in some areas are reluctant to vote for transit measures. Seattle generally votes yes; I think Community Transit does too; but King County as a whole voted down the last two Metro measures, and South King always votes against every Metro or ST measure as far as I can tell.

    3. The Pierce subarea has more exurban land in it than Snohomish or King, so that’s why it has all these low-served, anti-tax people in it. Spanaway and Orting are in, while Covington, Marysville, Snohomish (city), and Monroe, and Lake Stevens are out. Snohomish is the opposite of Pierce, where it looks like it was a mistake to leave fast-growing Marysville out, and that will create problems with generating the necessary level of transit and ridership in Marysville to accompany the population. I wouldn’t oppose shrinking the Pierce subarea, but then we’d have to address what happens if we just let it grow with car-dependent sprawl and no transit solution. Olympia/Lacey is another issue that needs addressing, probably with an ST Express-like service, but that’s a different kind of issue because it’s outsitde the ST district, and probably requires a joint ST-IT-state solution.

      1. I have very little reason to visit the exurban parts of Pierce County, but I have driven through it several times, on the way to and from Mt. Rainier, and the whole area looks very depressing. The sprawl is just endless, lots of low-end grocery stores, gas stations, and fast food, with higher-end stores like Whole Foods or PCC non-existant. The streets seldomly have sidewalks, and crosswalks can be nearly a mile apart. The whole environment is designed to make anyone who dares walk through the area miserable.

        Exurban areas do not have to be this way. Snoqualmie Ridge and Maple Valley are both examples of recently-built sprawl that at least respect walking as legitimate form of movement.

      2. I rode the southern part of Route 1 last fall. There’s a curious alternation of single-family areas and multistory commercial/apartment areas, one after another. Years ago I had ridden the predecessor route a few times, to PLU or Spanaway, but I wasn’t looking at density then. I thought I remembered a steep forested uphill just south of Tacoma Dome, but when I rode it last year it wasn’t much of a hill or forested at all. After that was a single-family area which depressed me, but then it got better, and then those confusing alternations repeated.

        Two things that impressed me were PT’s east-west routes, forming a grid that Seattle doesn’t have much of, and the stop announcements on the 1 that mentioned where you could transfer to an east-west route and which one it is. That reminded me of Chicago buses with their “Transfer to Red Line” announcements. Why do Pierce County, Snohomish County, and Shoreline sometimes outdo Seattle on innovations on Highway 99 and 7 bus routes?

  2. Not being familiar with Senator Kuderer’s constituency, I do wonder whether Senator Kuderer is responding to requests from her own constituents, or acting on a well-meaning impulse.

    Because if ST3 performs as it’s supposed to, won’t its transit improvements clearly justify the program’s costs to exactly the people whose well-being the Senator is trying to serve?

    But I think Senator O’Ban might be more comfortable if STB switched our approach to the era where the Senator might feel more comfortable. For awhile, let’s stop being “Transit Advocates”, and get in character to be Lobbyists.

    From the days when what we call “streetcars” and “light rail” were classed as “Traction”. So here’s what I’m proposing. If Senator O’Ban will just join us in living with ST-3’s present funding, we will offer:

    About five minutes from projected Tacoma Link terminal at 19th and MLK, would open Cheney Stadium to fans in both Tacoma and Steilacoom.

    The Senator will also become an honorary conductor, with the understanding he’ll be free to express his opinions on the rest of ST-3 transit to all his passengers on their way to the game. Including the ones at Safeco, Centurylink, and Husky Stadium via Sounder Specials and Link.

    Since we really need the man’s good office, let’s do him a couple better. Half hour ST 574 service from Steve’s office door, at the Capitol literally do-able- considering the benefit to all agencies and constituencies involved, should be a one-phone-call.

    But to truly give recognition to the spirit of great Railroad Ages past…Sounder terminates at Lacey. Special 574 sections re-route to meet trains. And one car on every train has a reserved Legislative Lounge with carpets, leather sofas, and cigars-only smoking. Vapes only if they smell like anything called “Corona”.

    We know when we’ve met our match!

    Mark Dublin

    1. >Not being familiar with Senator Kuderer’s constituency, I do wonder whether Senator Kuderer is responding to requests from her own constituents, or acting on a well-meaning impulse.

      Practically no one in fricking Clyde Hill can be considered low-income.

      1. I’m sure there are low-income wealthy people in Clyde Hill who are retired & struggled to pay their taxes. Low-income is defined by annual income, while “wealthy” is based on your balance sheet. Reminds me of the favored archetype of anti-property tax lobbyists, the cash-poor, fixed income, asset-rich homeowner.

  3. I thought pledging the MVET to bonds (as happened right after ST3) protected the agency from legislative “fiddling” like this?

    1. I don’t know what the fiscal impact of the bill is, but I’m pretty sure it is significantly smaller than any of the other ST MVET bills offered to date. I also can’t answer as to the threshold at which courts would consider a legislative action to threaten the agency’s ability to repay bonds.

      First, giving the discount only to low-income tabpayers drastically shrinks the universe of tabpayers getting a discount.

      Second, most low-income tabpayers have cars over 10 years old, so no discount for most low-income tabpayers. This is both specified in the bill, and a result of older cars getting a better deal under the 1996 formula already.

      Third, low-income tabpayers who own newer cars will typically own cars on the lower end of the range of price tags, so a much smaller discount than for a well-to-do tabpayer who bought a Maserati.

      Fourth, and least importantly, Kuderer’s bill starts with 2019 while O’Ban’s bills tend to roll the clock back to 2017.

      That should cut the fiscal impact by an order of magnitude or two over previous bills.

      Moreover, the bill deals with concern trolling. As in … But, but … think of all the working poor who have to own a car and have to pay tabs!! Okay, focus the discount on those who are most impacted and truly need the discount.

      1. Third point: those paying for Sound transit aren’t the well-to-do Maserati buyers. They’re working class citizens trying to make a living but above any low-income level.

        The more low-income benefits there are, the less incentive to improve ones self, that’s a proven fact.

        Discount or not, Maserati buyers can afford any fee thrown at them, but they’re a small handful when looking at the whole populous / taxpayer base. Where’s the relief for those funding the enormous spending and slow results? They deserve it most of all!

    2. “I thought pledging the MVET to bonds (as happened right after ST3) protected the agency from legislative “fiddling” like this?”

      That’s the flimsy argument that Sound Transit keeps perpetuating. The truth of the matter is that the agency could easily use bonding defeasance to overcome this supposed “issue” with their pledged MVET revenues for existing bonds. The agency has been entirely disingenuous about this from the start.

      I believe the bonds you are referencing are the $400M parity bonds of Series 2016S-1 (net proceeds of $477M) issued in December 2016. Fwiw, CEO Rogoff later lied about this during a board meeting a few months later when questioned by another board member (I believe it was Mr. Kent Keel) on whether any new bonding pledges had been issued since passage of ST3 in November 2016. (His answer was a “no”.) Perhaps Mr. Rogoff had forgotten the multiple memos he would’ve received from his treasurer about the transaction.

      1. It isn’t just the bondholders from the ST1 bonds who are protected. Bondholders from all bond issues are protected.

        Yes, if ST wanted to reduce their revenue stream and cut ST3 projects, they could pay off the ST1 bonds earlier. By repeatedly suggesting ST do this, while claiming ST should still fund the full ST3 project list, a certain senator is being disingenuous.

      2. If the legislature had seen this as a problem, it should have switched to the new depreciation schedule in the authorizing legislation for ST3.

      3. The poorest can’t afford cars to begin with. The idea that we should give an extra subsidy to better-off people just sounds strange. Or that we should give an extra subsidy to the carshare-driving class. If carshares were a nonprofit or a government agency it would be another story.

      4. Tlsgwm — What makes you think the Sound Transit bond contracts have defeasance provisions?

      5. “What makes you think the Sound Transit bond contracts have defeasance provisions?”

        To answer your question, because I have read the documents, including the Prior Bonds Master Resolution and the Parity Bonds Master Resolution. All ST debt issues to date have such provisions. In regard to the oldest bond issue, the $350M 1999 series that pledged local taxes (including the original .03% MVET), the defeasance provision is covered in section 10 of the resolution. With regard to Sound Transit’s most recent debt offering, the $400M 2016S-1 parity bond series issued in December 2016, the defeasance provision is covered in section 14.

        From the latter offering’s table of contents:


        Limited Obligations ……………………..16
        Flow of Funds ……………………………..16
        Security for the Parity Bonds ………..19
        Defeasance …………………………………24
        Other Covenants ………………………….25
        No Lien ……………………………………….25
        No Acceleration Upon Default ………25


        Prior Bonds …………………………………25
        Junior Obligations and Other Obligations ………………………………….29
        TIFIA Bonds ………………………………..29
        Capital Lease ………………………………32

        Thus, this should help you get started in reading the details for yourself. You may need to use the wayback machine to get to the older documents. Thanks for the reply.

  4. SB 5075 would incentivize low-income folks to own high-value cars, huh? Are poor Tesla owners a real problem?

      1. It’s a choice to own a valuable car. If folks wanna pay less in RTA, own a cheaper car. Am I missing something here?

      2. Uber drivers can’t switch to a cheaper car, or they’ll get kicked out of the platform. I believe the maximum allowable vehicle age is 7 years.

  5. “The bill is silent on whether a successful vote in Pierce County, where ST3 narrowly lost, would trigger a shutdown of South Sounder service, ST Express bus service in the county, and Tacoma Link.”

    It would have to, because their taxes are what’s paying for them. South King would have to look at whether it can afford to run Sounder South to Auburn on its own. A couple ST Express routes would have to be modified, but the 578 was going to be modified anyway with Federal Way Link.

  6. “The bill is silent on whether a successful vote in Pierce County, where ST3 narrowly lost, ….”

    Say what? I believe the final vote in Pierce County on ST3 was 44.24% for and 55.76% against. That result, by any stretch of the imagination, cannot be described as a “narrow” loss. Give me a break.

    1. Your numbers are correct. It was a Republican tide in Pierce County in 2016. So much so, that even Steve O’Ban managed to somehow get elected to the senate. 2018 didn’t go so well for Rs in his district. He might want to keep that in mind when playing so hard to the anti-tax, anti-government-funding-for-anything-but-cars base. Heck, his histrionics might have helped drag down a whole bunch of his Republican colleagues. Republicans got wiped out from University Place to Federal Way to Kent to Issaquah, and even in Lake Stevens.

      What is the proper terminology you would like used for the landslide victory for ST3 when adding the three counties together?

      1. Lol.

        “Your numbers are correct.”

        There. Fixed it for you. The rest of your commentary is irrelevant.

  7. A tax discount for people with both low incomes and new’ish cars feels specially tailored for Uber and Lyft drivers.

    1. The Uber business model doesn’t need any additional subsidies. If you subsidize the drivers, you are subsidizing Uber, because they can then pay even less.

      The economics of Uber/Lyft are tenuous. Many of these drivers are making next-to-nothing, because they don’t comprehend the true cost of car ownership.

  8. If there is upfront agreement that Pierce will not demand that its accumulated taxes be refunded, let them go. Continue Sounder to Tacoma but raise the fares to cover operating costs fully and see if people still ride it. If they don’t simply truncate it to Auburn.

    Sure, that would mean more cars on the South King freeways, but they’re full anyway, so what’s the difference? We’ve learned that providing transit doesn’t really improve congestion. It gives rational people an alternative by which to avoid it, but plenty of people are rabidly anti-social and insist on driving alone. Suburbia is where they choose to live because they can hide behind their fences.

    So, if providing transit doesn’t really help with congestion, NOT providing it shouldn’t make it much worse. Let them drown in their narcissism.

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