Did you hear the one about us bikers being an “oppressed minority” and we therefore should be included in Washington’s civil rights laws? No, I’m not kidding. We are oppressed! You know that section of the law that says you can’t discriminate against a protected class of citizens – like historically oppressed racial and sexual minorities? The one that says you can’t refuse to rent a hotel room or serve someone in a restaurant because they are black or gay? We bikers need to be in that! By golly I guess I should be in a protected class being a biker. I just never realized it! Discrimination against bikers is so rampant! It’s terrible! Landlords are refusing to rent to bikers, restaurants won’t let us eat, and hotels won’t let us rent a room. You’d think it was 1950 in Alabama. People look at us funny and snicker. Hell, if the bike breaks down we have to sit at the back of the bus like Rosa Parks! By golly we must do something. Where’s our Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, or Harvey Milk?
So in the grand tradition of “doing something”, someone in biker land convinced a legislator that it was a good idea to extend civil rights protections to us oppressed bikers, and thus HB 1553 was born which, would, believe it or not, put anyone “wearing motorcycle related or motorcycle club-related paraphernalia” in the list of protected groups right alongside race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. That’s right, wearing your HOG vest would be a civil right just like being black.
The Seattle Times ranked this as one of the five most ridiculous bills of the session. I’d add it goes beyond ridiculous to being embarrassing and even offensive. Historically oppressed minorities who faced actual systemic and wide spread discrimination for years deserve these protections. Putting wearing motorcycle gear in the same category as being black or gay or Jewish is laughable. The bill fortunately didn’t even get a hearing, but it embarrassed the biker community and cost taxpayers around $50,000 for the cost of drafting and printing the bill. If we bikers want legislators to take us seriously when we actually have something we want or need – like lane splitting or even helmet repeal, we can’t be proposing asinine and yes, offensive, ideas like making the wearing of biker gear a civil right.
Shifting gears now, four of my favorite words in the English language, especially when I get to say them, are: “I told you so!” Which I’m doing now. “I TOLD YOU SO!” I am referring to the astronomical license plate fees now being imposed on vehicle owners in the Sound Transit service district in Western Washington. The increasing tax burden in Washington is one of the reasons I changed my residency to California. Last fall when this proposal was on the ballot I warned that it would make owning a vehicle – motorcycle, car, truck or anything with wheels prohibitively expensive. I said it back then – “get ready to take it on the chin” if this passes. It passed and with the March vehicle tab renewals going out, all hell is breaking lose. I told you so!
SURPRISE! Everyone who pays fees in the Sound Transit area sees them going up by double digits – sometimes several hundred dollars more. I can hear the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth all the way down here in the desert every time I open the Seattle Times. But it’s not like you got the wool pulled over your eyes if you voted for this monstrosity. It was all there in black and white in the voter’s pamphlet – exactly how much this was going to cost and where those funds were coming from. Increased car tab and property taxes. Polling showed that it just barely passed among vehicle owners who pay the tax and was pushed over the top by the majority of folks who DO NOT own a vehicle and thus don’t pay the tax.
What you didn’t see however was the formula that Sound Transit uses to determine the value of the vehicle for assessing the tax. They are using the MSRP. We all know that the MSRP is a “suggestion” and hardly is a reflection of value, and further more they don’t account for depreciation. A one-year old car is valued at 95% of the MSRP for tax purposes. Meanwhile Kelley Blue Book values the same car at just 70% of the sticker price. Those of us who were around in the 1990s remember this is how the state calculated license tabs and it’s still on the books. Once I-695 passed and the state went to $30 flat fees (now compiled by a bunch of other “flat fees”), the section on valuation wasn’t repealed and that is what Sound Transit uses to calculate the value for their tax. What’s more the Department of Licensing is even admitting that some of the MSRPs are “wrong”, and that “potentially” they “may” refund the money. Uh huh.
Is there relief in sight? Well the Legislature has a handful of bills now to “fix” the problem, by changing the valuation to reflect Blue Book values not MSRP. They may even pass. But since Sound Transit has already sold the bonds that are backed by this tax, and they were based on the OLD way of calculating the tax, the changes likely will be declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court since the bonds were sold based on the old way of calculating. It’s a glorious sleight of hand trick that the Legislature can use – they appear to respond to the public’s outrage by passing a knowingly unconstitutional bill. It goes to court, is overturned, and they look good, they blame the court, and you still are stuck paying the tax. Even Sound Transit gets to sound “concerned” and “helpful” by saying “we need to fix this – but….” It’s always the “but”. They too know it’s unconstitutional to change it now that the bonds have been sold, but there’s nothing they can do they’ll say.
My suggestion? Move. If you can’t do that, ride somewhere over the pass to Yakima or Cle Elum or Ellensburg, rent a post office box, make that your “official” residence and license your vehicles there. Until they catch you you’ll save a few bucks and have a nice ride out to your post office box a couple of times a year to boot. And the next time someone proposes a tax increase on vehicles, maybe think twice about voting for it!
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com