OLYMPIA — Initiative 976, which caps annual state and local car tab fees at $30, takes effect Dec. 5, but that doesn’t mean vehicle owners the next day are going to be writing a check for $30 to renew their plates.

In addition to making computer changes, the state Department of Licensing is working with the Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Revenue to “understand the impacts of the initiative” and answer the “unknowns,” said DOL spokesperson Christine Anthony.

In addition to capping annual state and local car tab fees at $30 for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, I-976 would:

  • Eliminate the additional fee the state charges based on the weight of a vehicle, which can range from $25 to $65.
  • Bar local governments from tacking on car tab fees through transportation benefit districts. Currently, 61 cities raise revenue that way to help pay for transportation projects.

DOL says owners of basic passenger vehicles start with the same fee of $43.25 and “things like vehicle weight, location and taxes determine the final amount.”

That $43.25 consists of a $30 basic renewal fee, $4.50 county filing fee, 75-cent license service fee and $8 service fee.

The $30 basic renewal fee stays in effect under I-976, Anthony said.

What about the $4.50 county filing fee, 75-cent license service fee and $8 service fee? Will those still be charged?

“Those are the kinds of things we’re going through right now, so I don’t really have any specifics,” Anthony said. “It’s too early for us to say.”

Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said Tuesday that vehicle owners would pay $43.25 — not $30 — when I-976 takes effect because the initiative did not repeal the $4.50 county filing fee, the 75-cent license service fee and the $8 service fee.

Eyman said the initiative — which stated, “State and local motor vehicle license fees may not exceed $30 per year for motor vehicles” — was not deceptive.

“The effort is always you want to keep your initiative simple, straightforward, and it does what you want it to do. The (basic renewal fee) is $30. But when it comes to these ancillary fees, it just wasn’t worth breaking your pick on and have the measure be two or three times longer,” he said.

King County and the city of Seattle said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging I-976 and seeking an injunction to prevent it from taking effect while the legal battle is waged. Late last week, the Washington State Transit Association Board of Directors authorized legal action against the initiative.

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