Wyble: Unpacking the car tab debate

Something must be done to address the outrageous cab-tab increases we’re seeing,” said Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek and assistant ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee.

It sounds like Mark Harmsworth actually cares that your taxes are going up. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. He doesn’t.

Let’s unpack this statement. The House Republicans introduced six amendments on April 5th to lower car tabs and allow cities and counties to opt-out of Sound Transit. Sounds like they care about you and your taxes, right?

Wrong. The key to their amendment strategy is the part about opting out of Sound Transit. Mark Harmsworth doesn’t care about your taxes. He’s trying to stop Sound Transit. He is (like many Republicans in Washington) an ideologue that doesn’t believe in mass transit. He’s only using the increase in car tabs to relitigate the Sound Transit 3 campaign.

How do I know that? 

First, Republicans have a terrible record on helping working people get tax relief. Let’s start with the debate on Sound Transit itself. There have been two bills (HB 2148 and HB 2147) that would actually lower car tabs for working people either by changing the way cars are valued or by offering a rebate of up to 40 percent on car tab charges for low-income owners. But, Republicans like Mark Harmsworth have opposed those bills because they don’t give cities and counties any new authority to opt out of Sound Transit. 

Second, let’s look at the difference between the Republican and Democratic budgets just in this year. The Democratic budget would enact a seven percent tax on capital gains and a 20% increese in the Business and Occupation Tax for some of the highest grossing businesses in the state. This would help pay for an increase in K-12 spending while not adding a tax burden to working people. The Republican budget, on the other hand, would give huge tax breaks to Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Walmart, Century Link, Avista, BNSF Railway Co., and Weyerhauser.

Washington State already has the most regressive tax system in the country. An average taxpayer among the state’s poorest 20 percent sees 16.9 percent of his or her income go to state and local taxes in 2010. Meanwhile, a Washington taxpayer in the top 1 percent likely paid 2.8 percent of his or her income in state and local taxes.

If you really cared about tax fairness, you could look at the roughly $6.5 billion in tax breaks to corporations and make sure these giveaways are either creating jobs or improving the state’s economy. Senator Rueven Carlyle took the first step by requiring transparency around all tax breaks. That’s the approach someone would take if they cared about your taxes. 

In other words, if you care about people’s taxes you could provide a rebate on car tabs, you could reassess the value of cars, you could increase the amount that big business is paying, or you could scrutinize corporate tax breaks to make sure they are working. The other thing you could do as a legislator is invite hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative campaign advertising by proposing an income tax. 

Or you can oppose everything unless the legislation strikes a blow against Sound Transit. That’s what Republicans like Mark Harmsworth are trying to do. They should just tell you that they don’t care if you are stuck in traffic instead of spending time with your family. They don’t want to give you any more choices for how you commute or get around. They don’t want to help the region’s businesses by ensuring a strong transportation infrastructure. They believe the Puget Sound region can just put down enough pavement that our traffic problems are solved. 

Misguided? Certainly. Stupid? Probably. The truth about Mark Harmsworth. Exactly.