10 March 2009

How Much Are Your Thirty Dollar Auto License Tabs This Year?

I have been a resident of the Great State of Washington (GSoW) for about 33 years. During that time I have reached the conclusion that if there is anything that the GSoW has gotten really screwed up, it is the intake of money for the purposes of operating said State.

The GSoW has no income tax, a thing which, once a year around 15 April, bringeth a smile to the face of many a taxpayer. The lack of this instrument -- enjoyed by most states in the Union -- causes a great crimp in the giant culvert through which flows the legal tender required to maintain the public servants of the GSoW in the manner to which they have become accustomed. This deplorable impedance has forced those resourceful servants to grow an enormous blackberry bush of fees, fines, and taxes a single thorn from which exacts no more than a scratch, but whose total influence may draw enough blood to induce anemia in the hardiest of victims.

One of those thorns is the annual fee that motorists pay to renew their vehicle registration. When I first lived here, that fee was mostly excise tax, based on a table of theoretical value for the vehicle in question, and it was onerous indeed. It was not uncommon to pay several hundred dollars a year if one owned a newer, more valuable car or truck. Over time, I became used to this annual contribution, and would save up for it throughout the year.

In 1999, Tim Eyman successfully sponsored Initiative 695, which reduced the automobile license fee to $30/year. In a paroxysm of governmental angst, the State Supreme Court ruled that Initiative unconstitutional. The legislature and governor, however, sensed that a lynch mob was gathering, and quickly passed a law that was almost the same as I-695. I don't really remember, but it seems that the car license fees I paid that year were pretty close to $30. Ah, the good old days.

Every successive year that figure has crept up, and up. I know that this is predictable, and I am not surprised, but it is remarkable how each year creative fees, surcharges, and related taxes get tacked on to the bill. The last payment I made for my $30 car tabs was $57. The GSoW provides this page to see all the interesting ways that this is possible.

Yesterday I received the bill for my other vehicle, which renews in April. These $30 car tabs come to about $65. Wow, sez I. Why so much? Oh. I see. Not only am I paying for my license, but I am buying new plates. The perfectly good license plates that I have are due for replacement. I will be charged $20 to keep the same plate number, my ham radio callsign. And (this is good) there's a "reflectorizing fee" of $4.

Sigh. How brief a victory. Timmy, we hardly knew ye.