Several Lewis County elected officials were on hand Friday morning to hear from Washington State Troopers Association President Jeff Merrill on Initiative 976, which seeks to limit motor vehicles taxes and fees at the Lewis County Courthouse
Merrill spoke at Friday’s Mayor’s Meeting, a monthly event hosted by the Lewis County Board of Commissioners.
As the meeting’s featured guest speaker at the county courthouse conference, Merrill discussed his many concerns regarding 1-976, currently being promoted by anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman. The initiative proposes that annual license fees for vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds be limited to $30.
“Seldom do we get involved in politics. We like to stay out of the fray,” Merrill said. “This is an initiative we believe could have very harmful and have lasting impacts to the community and to our transportation infrastructure. This is one of those times that we’ve been asked to chime in.”
Eyman’s indirect initiated state statute, which is up for vote on Nov. 5, would also look to base vehicle taxes on the Kelley Blue Book value rather than 85-percent of the manufacturer’s base suggested retail price, along with repealing local Transportation Benefit District fees and repealing authorization for certain regional transit authorities, such as Sound Transit, to impose vehicle excise taxes.
“This is a challenging measure. This measure seeks to overturn in excess of $25 billion in transportation and infrastructure improvements during the course of the next decade and a half or so,” continued Merrill.
The initiative, he added, began as a result of Sound Transit getting “a little frugal” in the way they assess taxation methods versus Kelley Blue Book.
“Since then, that’s been corrected, but the anger lingers,” said Merrill.
Among those who weighed in on the issue was Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes, who said that he “understands” the state’s need for dollars and that he generally agrees with the Washington State Troopers Association’s stance on the matter.
However, Dawes said that he believes it’s time for state legislation to “quit sneaking” fees, such as the $150 tax on electrical vehicles.
“Those darn add-ons,” he said, “tick people off. I wouldn’t be surprised if you probably see people who are going to vote no, vote yes just for that reason.”
Centralia Mayor Lee Coumbs expressed his own concerns about the impacts of I-976 being voted into law by openly wondering if the measure would eliminate existing local Transportation Benefit District funding for projects that have already been approved.
In particular, he referenced an ongoing local improvement venture to renovate streets in Centralia.
“We have big plans for this and you’re telling me that if this passes, we will eliminate that?” asked Coumbs.
Merrill said that he “can’t believe” that any of those plans would be discarded as a result of I-976 being passed.
The WSP Troopers Association President was joined by fellow trooper Will Finn, as he later talked with the county commissioners and mayors in attendance about his department’s struggles with staffing. He mentioned a new recruitment program being one way the Troopers Association is hoping to solve their current shortage of about 100 officers.