Slapped with the Fat Tax
No, I don’t live in Japan where they come and measure your waistline and tax you for excess inches of fat. Washington state deems my car fat. Washington state has a fat tax on cars over 4,000 pounds, which Grunhilde Audi is, slightly, because she’s safe, not because she’s big. She’s just a station wagon, after all, and slithers into compact parking spaces with finesse and aplomb. She girds my slight frame in a couple of tons of steel and has heavy-duty suspension and things cars should have. The tax is not new, but I only became aware of it this month when I registered Grunhilde for the first time. My previous cars evidently were under 4,000 pounds. I shudder to reflect upon my former peril.
But $30 tabs are history for most Washington drivers. Dwellers of urban areas of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties will see, if they haven’t already, the new value-based RTA (Regional Transit Authority) tax. The Legislature passed a no-dicker value formula based on straight depreciation from the new price of the car, regardless of the price paid, and specifically confesses the value is not intended to be an estimate of market value.
The purpose of the RTA tax is to redistribute money that urban owners of private vehicles earn to Sound Transit. While some funds might actually go into HOV lanes and other highway improvements, the RTA emphasizes “riders,” not “drivers,” and is very large on developing driving alternatives. While most Easterners would likely be comfortable with this, Westerners used to be people who actively drove, rather than passively rode, and who required less from government when it came to managing basic things in life, like getting around. But the West has long since been invaded by transit industry captains who consider urban owners of private vehicles anachronisms; they are constantly villainizing them and thinking up ways to get them out of their cars.
It’s an old idea and not a particularly good one, to assess car owners for public transit. People with a certain value set are required to underwrite the values of other people, to no real advantage.
Nor is it a particularly good idea to penalize personal vehicles by weight for their road use. Heavier cars use more gas and pay their way in gas taxes. At 37.5 cpg, Washington has the fifth-highest gas tax in the nation, led by California, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois.
But of course, government can get a raise any time it wants one, for any or no reason, and its wages have never been linked to its merit, any more than they are to my weight.