Rta Tax Hits Some Not Along For The Ride
Seattle Times Eastside Bureau
It's not exactly taxation without representation. But call it taxation without transit.
Many residents of outlying areas in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are being dinged for a regional-transit tax they had no say in, won't directly benefit from and aren't supposed to pay.
Vehicle-license-renewal notices being mailed by the state Department of Licensing include the tax voters approved last year to raise money for the Regional Transit Authority's planned system of light rail, commuter rail and express-bus service. That tax goes into effect April 1.
The problem is that some people who live outside the RTA boundaries and thus didn't vote on the $3.9 billion bond measure are receiving renewal notices calling for them to pay the additional three-tenths of 1 percent tax.
"They're billing everyone who happens to be in a particular ZIP code," said Woodinville resident Brian Morantz, who spotted the tax on his notice but recalled that the project wasn't on his voting ballot. He lives beyond the RTA boundary.
The preliminary estimate is that up to 24,000 people in 18 ZIP codes in the three counties may be affected, in that the RTA boundary zigzags through those ZIP codes. Licensing Department computers were set up to deal only with entire ZIP codes, rather than the voting precincts within them.
"This is going to be a recurring problem for vehicle owners," said Suzanne Taylor of the Licensing Department, adding that there is no system in place to stop this from happening over the 10-year life of the tax.
But the department is training licensing agents in the three counties to deal with the problem.
"We're working with them so they can override the RTA tax when someone comes in and says, `I don't live there and didn't get to vote on it, so I shouldn't have to pay it,' " Taylor said.
Beginning today, licensing agents will be sent maps that show the RTA boundary so they can confirm no-tax addresses. If there are gray areas, Taylor said, agents have been instructed to have people sign affidavits stating they live outside the boundary.
"The nature of the RTA boundary threw a curve at the Department of Licensing," RTA spokesman Denny Fleenor said.
"We've been working with the Department of Licensing to get the right tax bill to the right people."
But the RTA and Licensing Department have contracted with Moore Business Communications Services of Seattle to get the right tax bill to the right people, he said.
"As I understand it," Fleenor said, "they're trying to get the boundary in the computer and work on some way to flag those outside the boundaries.
"We would hope we can fix it before the 10 years are up, but each month it's going to be a problem for a certain group of people."
More than vehicle licenses are affected. People who live outside the boundary but purchase a vehicle within the boundary need to make sure they don't pay that portion of the sales tax that goes to the RTA. Conversely, someone who lives within the RTA boundary but buys a car outside it has to pay the tax.
Contractors who do work both inside and outside the boundary are also affected.
People who pay the tax in error can also apply for a refund. All licensing outlets will have the refund forms and will help people complete them, officials say. ----------------------------------------------------------------- ZIP codes affected
The Regional Transit Authority boundary cuts through the following ZIP codes. Some residents of these ZIP codes are not subject to the part of the vehicle-excise tax or vehicle-sales tax that goes to the RTA. Residents of voting precincts that did not have the RTA bond measure on the ballot last year are not subject to the added tax.
King County: 98027, 98029, 98042, 98052, 98053, 98058, 98059, 98072, 98092.
Snohomish County: 98012, 98021, 98072, 98208, 98296.
Pierce County: 98338, 98360, 98371, 98387, 98390.
Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.