Olympia - October 13, 1999- Whether passage of Initiative 695 in November would subject motor vehicles to the state's personal property tax is a question that will have to be settled by the courts or the Legislature, an informal Attorney General's opinion released today concludes.
October 11, 1999
At issue is whether language in I-695, which would reduce the state motor-vehicle excise tax to a flat $30 per year on all vehicles regardless of their value, would at the same time impose a personal property tax on the same vehicles. Under current law, cars and other motor vehicles are exempt from the personal property tax.
The issue has arisen because language in the initiative appears to repeal the personal property tax exemption for motor vehicles, thus subjecting vehicles to the tax. However, other portions of the initiative state that existing laws "that impose taxes and fees on vehicles" would be repealed.
If I-695 passes, only the courts or the Legislature through clarifying legislation could settle the question of its meaning, the informal AG opinion said.
Although it appears that restoration of the property tax was not specifically intended by the drafters of I-695, "the voters are on notice that the measure's enactment might have that effect," the opinion said.
The informal opinion was written in response to a request by state Department of Revenue Director Frederick Kiga. Kiga asked Attorney General Christine Gregoire for help in understanding how the provisions of I-695 might be interpreted. The Revenue Department is responsible for advising county assessors on the effects of the initiative if approved.
Arguments supporting restoration of the property tax on motor vehicles are serious enough to warrant planning by those who would be responsible for assessing and collecting the tax, the opinion said.