Why I support an $80 Vehicle License Fee

Home » Why I support an $80 Vehicle License Fee

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is considering asking you, the voters of Seattle, to approve an $80 increase on your vehicle license fee (aka, “car tabs”). I firmly believe additional revenue is needed to not only maintain Seattle’s transportation infrastructure, but to expand it to provide improve mobility for all residents in Seattle.

Investments we make to improve mobility for people and goods throughout Seattle also bring social and economic benefits. New revenue provides Council with opportunities to advance transportation projects that will provide greater benefit to Seattle’s lower-income communities that rely more heavily on public transit and walking to get around, and that would experience a greater burden from the increased vehicle license fee.

I’ve asked the city demographer to look into data about income levels and car ownership.  What I learned was that of the roughly 18% of households (or about 48,000 households) in Seattle live below 150% of the federal poverty level (150% FPL is $33,525 for a family of four). Among those households, 40% do not own a vehicle and will not be burdened by the increased fee—in fact they are more likely to rely on public transportation and walking to get around and will benefit from the investments we make with additional revenue.



For the other 60% of households below $150% FPL who do own cars, they are likely spending significant portions of their income to own and operate their car. For these folks, smart investments that would make transit use more accessible could allow them to reduce the amount of income they spend on their vehicle.

At the same time, an additional $80 fee each year for owning a vehicle could have a significant and burdensome impact (the fee is regressive, but the state hasn’t granted Seattle authority to scale the cost of car tabs to the value of the vehicle, that is, to impose a “motor vehicle excise tax” instead of a vehicle license fee). So I will be working with the City Council, the Mayor and our city departments to identify some way we can lessen some of the burden of the increased fee on our lowest-income residents.

I think everyone on the City Council agrees that we need additional revenue to preserve and strengthen our transportation infrastructure in Seattle. We have some discretion over how much we ask voters to approve and some of my colleagues on the Council feel like $80 is too high and that we need to look at a lower increase, maybe $40 or even $60.

I know we are in a sustained recession and I know many families in Seattle are struggling week to week to get by. But I also know those families are more likely to rely on public transit and can benefit from the projects that this new revenue will bring Seattle. And having looked at the numbers and thinking about the projects we could fund, I fully believe that $80 is the right amount to ask of voters—even in these difficult economic times.

I am confident we can do this in a way that advances our shared goal of preserving and improving our transportation system while also mitigating the impacts on families struggling the hardest to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. We can make it easier and safer to get to work, school or the doctor, and I believe everyone in Seattle would like the sound of that.