By John Stark
State Rep. Jeff Morris, D-40th, has introduced legislation that he says would finance construction of a new state ferry by changing state policy on vehicle tab fees.
If you’re in the habit of getting your new vehicle tabs via the Whatcom County Auditor’s office, either online or in person, Morris’s H.B. 1129 will raise your renewal cost by $5 a year.
Here’s the deal: Under current law, private businesses that offer vehicle tab renewal processing are entitled to add a $5 service charge to your cost, and the businesses get to keep that money. No such fee is charged at the Auditor’s office here or elsewhere in the state.
But if the county auditors also tack on a $5 fee and forward that money to the state, the added revenue could amount to $15.6 million per biennium for the state’s Capital Vessel Replacement account, Morris says.
The state has already funded construction of two new ferries. Morris says the added license tab money would enable the state to build a third one. He argues that building the third boat now, when Vigor Shipyards already is mobilized to build two other ones, would be cheaper than building the third one later.
Legislative staffer Quinn Majeski said it would be up to the Washington Department of Transportation to decide where the third ferry is most needed.
Read the full text of the bill by clicking here.
Here’s the press release from Morris:
OLYMPIA – A new proposal by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, would provide funding for the construction of a third new ferry for the Washington Department of Transportation by making a required fee for small businesses applicable to government-run operations as well.
“22 million people ride the Washington Ferry System each year, and many of them live in the 40th legislative district. We cannot continue relying on 60 year old boats to get people to and from work and school every day,” stated Rep. Morris.
Morris’s legislation, HB 1129, would match the five dollar vehicle licensing fee currently being paid by small business owners with a five dollar fee on licenses issued by county auditors, generating roughly $15.6 million per biennium. The state would then bond against that revenue stream, supporting a fund of about $110 million that would go towards constructing a third 144-car ferry.
The bills would also ensure that the public and private sectors are treated equally in the vehicle licensing industry. Right now the five dollar fee only applies to businesses, while county auditors – who can also issue vehicle licenses – are exempt.
“The discrepancy in fees between what customers pay at our shops and what they pay the at auditors’ offices undercuts the private market,” said Charlene Winzler, President of the Washington Association of Vehicle Subagents. “This legislation would help small businesses across Washington, equalize government and small business, and provide money for an important state service.”
The state has already budgeted money to contract with Vigor Shipyards for the construction of two new ferries, with the option to construct up to two additional boats. This bill would provide the funding to build a much needed third ferry while saving taxpayers from paying additional startup costs down the road.
“It’s an issue of economies of scale. There are a lot of upfront costs associated with setting up the manufacturing line and processes that need to be ironed out. We know a number of our ferries will need to be replaced in the coming years; let’s not pay those upfront costs twice,” said Morris.