March 19, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 12

Feature

Pay you back later

By Rosette Royale , Assistant Editor

To help ease the burden of a proposed $60 car-tab fee on poor people, King County plans to give them a rebate

Car tabs in King County could go up to $60 later this year, which could affect low-income people, who own roughly 275,000 vehicles. People who can’t afford the potential increase can get a $20 rebate, which means they’ll have to pay $60 up front and get their rebate later. That might be a burden for some vehicle owners.

Photo by: Jon Williams , Arts Editor

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Voters in King County will decide next month on a $130 million transportation package that, if approved, would require vehicle owners to pay an additional $60 car-tab fee.

Acknowledging that an extra fee could be tough on people who are already struggling to afford their vehicles, King County is planning to offer a $20 rebate under a new program approved by the state legislature last year.

The $20 rebate would apply to anyone earning less than 45 percent of area annual median income, roughly $31,500 for a single person.

About 21 percent of King County residents, and about 275,000 vehicles, would be eligible, King County officials estimate.

Advocates for homeless people believe the rebate program is flawed. Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, executive director of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, said those who live day-to-day may not be good candidates for a program that requires them to come up with an additional $60 for car tabs — and then wait an unknown length of time to get $20 mailed back to them.

“It’s better than a kick in the pants,” said Jean Darcie, chair of the Ballard Community Taskforce on Homelessness and Hunger, “but it’s not really a solution for someone who’s low-income.”

For homeless people, losing one’s vehicle often means losing one’s shelter. Approximately 993 people were found sleeping in their vehicles according to the 2014 One Night Count.

Many vehicle-dwellers already have unpaid parking tickets, Kirlin-Hackett said. Vehicle owners with two or more unpaid tickets cannot renew their car tabs until the tickets are paid, according to the Department of Licensing. In Seattle, the ticket for expired tabs on a parked vehicle is $47.

Kirlin-Hackett said lawmakers apparently failed to fully consider the challenges the program could pose to low-income people: “It’s one more case of ‘Let’s pass something and worry about how we harm people later,’” he said.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski said that he wants the program to offer elegible vehicle owners instant rebates.

No one knows how long that would take to put in place.

The rebate program is a small part of a large transportation package that will come before King County voters in an April 22 special election.

Funding for the transportation package, called the King County Transportation District (KCTD), would come from two revenue streams: a $60 car tab fee, which county officials say could generate approximately $80 million a year; and a 0.1 percent sales tax increase, projected to bring in approximately $50 million a year.

The funds would help pay for transit service, road and bridge maintenance and other improvements linked to transportation.

Currently, Metro faces a $75 million budget deficit. County officials say that funds generated by the KCTD could fill the transit agency’s coffers.

If the KCTD does not pass and Metro cannot cover its shortfall, the transit agency will have to cut 74 routes and alter 107 other routes beginning this fall.

John Resha, interim director for KCTD, said voters must pass the ballot measure in order for the rebate to go into effect.

If that happens, county officials can begin to figure out how the refund program would be implemented. It would go into effect December 2014 and last for 10 years.

The current $20 car tab fee expires in June.

Resha said he understands some people may find fault with the rebate program, but state law mandates who gets a rebate and caps the rebate amount.

“Is it the best and most effective program possible? Probably not. But it was the tool that was available,” Resha said.

If 100 percent of eligible vehicle owners make use of the rebate, the program could cost $5.5 million and administrative costs would amount to approximately $820,000, he said.

Resha said that since this would be the first rebate program of its kind in the state, the finer points still need to be worked out. Dembowski and other councilmembers, he said, want to engage advocates and low-income people to ensure that low-income vehicle owners get the rebates they deserve.

“We will be working with the community to figure out what is the easiest way to do it,” he said.

Kirlin-Hackett, of the Interfaith Task Force, said advocates for poor and homeless people want to work at improving the program, too, but are at a loss as to how to do that.

“The guy I talked to [the other day] who has no money, he’d be up the creek without a paddle.”

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