Orting eliminates local car tab fees in nod to voters who approved Initiative 976

The Orting City Council has voted to waive all local car tab fees. If Initiative 976 is upheld by the courts, residents there will pay a flat $30 to the state.

The ordinance to do away with the local fee passed unanimously Feb. 12. It has been implemented and cuts $20 from Orting vehicle owners’ registration fees.

Mayor Josh Penner said the voters in November told elected officials they don’t want to fund transportation through car tab fees, and he wants to listen to their decision.

“They passed it. This is a tip of a hat for those to set tabs at $30,” Penner said.

He also said no one knows if I-976 will be upheld, but he wants to be prepared for it. Rather than collect $20 for the City of Orting and have to refund it, he would like citizens to keep their money.

“No one can predict how it’s going to play out, but we know if we spend the money we’re collecting now, we could have to repay it back,” Penner said.

The city began collecting the annual $20 fee in 2012 to help cover the cost of resurfacing roads and a few sidewalk projects. In 2019, the fee brought in $141,000, covering most of the $199,200 to fix local roads and sidewalks, according to the city budget.

Now that the transportation funding has been cut, Orting will rely on the state Legislature.

“We are all watching the state (Legislature) to figure out how they intend to fund local infrastructure and transportation,” Penner said. “But yeah, that is a big risk.”

Asked if they would re-implement the $20 fee if I-976 is deemed unconstitutional, Penner said, “I can’t speculate on that.”

Voters approved the statewide initiative to reduce car-tab fees. The fees paid for Sound Transit construction across the Puget Sound region, and local jurisdictions tacked on fees for municipal transportation improvements. Voters in Pierce County approved the $30-car tab measure by 66 percent.

After the measure passed, the City of Seattle, King County and other jurisdictions sued the state and tax activist Tim Eyman, who put the measure on the ballot.

The plaintiffs argued projects are underway with the expected funding from car tabs and that ballot measure was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs have argued the description on the ballot was misleading and that the measure violated state law on initiatives.

A judge issued an initial ruling last week, questioning both sides. The ruling also rejected the essential unconstitutional argument from King County and other plaintiffs.

Pierce County entered the lawsuit to defend the initiative in December. Deputy prosecutors are providing the state with support in arguing for the approved ballot measure, Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett told The News Tribune.

King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson placed an injunction on the measure while it travels through the courts.

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.