The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Who pays the 1996 Sound Move RTA Tax on Motor Vehicle?

Sound Transit District


One thing readily apparent about traffic is that it knows no limits - literally. Congestion doesn't stop at county lines. But until recently, jurisdiction for dealing with public transportation problems - and congestion - did. After recognizing that the region's existing transportation system couldn't meet the demand being placed on it the state Legislature passed a law that allowed counties to create a single agency, Sound Transit - the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority - to develop alternatives for meeting regional travel needs. In particular, the legislature charged the agency with planning, building and operating a high-capacity transit (HCT) system (within a three-county regional transit district) for the region's most heavily used travel corridors.

The Sound Transit District boundary

The Sound Transit district map includes the most congested urban areas of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The Sound Transit District boundary generally follows the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act.

Sound Transit District subareas

One of the unique features of the Sound Transit plan is that it delivers a fair share of investments to each of Sound Transit's five geographic areas:

  • East King County
  • Snohomish County
  • South King County
  • North King County
  • Pierce County

The principle of subarea equity assures that Sound Transit taxes raised in each subarea are used for capital projects and operations that directly benefit that area. Priority projects for each subarea were identified through a public process involving established local elected official organizations.

The population figures given here are Sound Transit analysis based on data from the Puget Sound Regional Council, and were last revised April, 2007.

Snohomish County Subarea: Includes the cities of Brier, Edmonds, Everett, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway. The Snohomish County Subarea has an estimated population of 397,000.

North King County Subarea: Includes the cities of Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. The North King subarea has an estimated population of 646,000.

South King County Subarea: Includes the cities of Algona, Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Normandy Park, Pacific, SeaTac and Tukwila. Since 1990, this has been the fastest growing area of King County. The South King Subarea has an estimated population of 483,000.

East King County Subarea: Includes the cities of Beaux Arts, Bellevue, Bothell, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Issaquah, Kirkland, Medina, Mercer Island, Newcastle, Redmond, Renton, Sammamsih, Woodinville, and Yarrow Point. The East King Subarea has an estimated population of 491,000.

Pierce County Subarea: Includes the cities of Bonney Lake, DuPont, Edgewood, Fife, Fircrest, Lakewood, Milton, Orting, Puyallup, Ruston, Steilacoom, Sumner, Tacoma and University Place. The Pierce County Subarea has an estimated population of 650,000.

Paying for Regional Transit

The law that created Sound Transit also authorized the agency to levy and collect voter-approved local option taxes to pay for building and operating an HCT system. These taxes could include an employer tax, a special motor vehicle excise tax (the tax on license plate tabs) and a sales and use tax. Taxes will only be levied within the Sound Transit district. Sound Transit is not authorized to (nor does it intend to) levy property taxes to help pay for the regional transit system.

Frequently asked questions

What is the RTA Tax?

The RTA Tax is a 0.3 percent motor-vehicle tax and a 0.4 percent sales tax, that was approved by voters as part of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority's (RTA) Proposition 1. The Central Puget Sound RTA District includes the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Voters within the RTA district approved Proposition 1 at the November 1996 general election to provide local funding for a package of region-wide transit improvements in the metropolitan three-county area, including light rail, commuter rail and express bus service. The RTA Tax became effective for vehicle renewals on April 1, 1997 and was phased in as vehicle licenses expired after that date.

RTA District Map

What is the RTA Boundary and how is it determined?

The Sound Transit District currently includes the most congested, "urban" areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The Sound Transit District boundary lines generally follow the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act. The urban growth boundaries guide how and where growth will take place in each county.

On June 13, 2002, the RTA Boundary was adjusted in some locations in consideration of voter precinct boundaries, city limit lines, and geography.

State law requires that the district's service area include at least two adjacent counties. The law also requires that the district benefit (as much as possible) the largest urban areas designated by each county under the state Growth Management Act. The Sound Transit Board adopted the district borders after consulting with local jurisdictions and county council members whose districts would be affected by Sound Transit.

I went to the Department of Licensing office to renew my vehicle license, and I was assessed an additional charge for the RTA Tax. I have never paid for this in the past, why am I getting charged for it now?

The Department of Licensing assesses this tax based on a database of zip codes which falls within the RTA Boundary. You may not have been previously charged the RTA Tax because this method was not 100 percent accurate and some addresses were not billed accordingly. The records are constantly being updated.

To search for the rates for your address, visit the Department of Revenue’s website ( to use their “Tax Rate Lookup Tool.” If you need further assistance or would like to speak to someone, please refer to the contact list at the end of this FAQ. I received a shortage letter from the Department of Licensing stating that I owe the RTA Tax. Should I pay this? Vehicle owners who live on or near the RTA boundary line may receive a special renewal notice, or shortage letter, from the Department of Licensing, stating that an amount is owed for the RTA tax. If you receive such a letter, it is recommended that you contact Sound Transit. Please refer to the contact list at the end of this FAQ for address verification. If it is determined that your property is outside of the RTA Boundary, you do not have to pay the amount as indicated in the shortage letter. The Department of Licensing will be contacted to update your vehicle records to show exemption from the RTA Tax. If you have paid the amount showing on the shortage letter, you may request a refund.

I live in a rural area and in an unincorporated portion of King, Snohomish or Pierce County. Why am I getting assessed the RTA Tax? I'm never going to use what is being developed and I never voted for this RTA taxation, so why do I have to pay this? Regardless of whether you reside in a rural area or in an unincorporated portion of either King, Snohomish, or Pierce County, if your property is determined to be inside of the RTA Boundary, then the RTA tax must be paid as required by law. A majority of public voters approved the Sound Move Regional Transit System Plan in 1996 . The Sound Move plan authorizes a local 0.4 percent sales tax and 0.3 percent MVET tax to finance construction and operation of the regional transit system. There are hidden benefits for those living in rural areas and outside of the RTA Boundary. By dealing with congestion, Sound Transit will help make the urban areas within its district more livable. In turn it will then be easier to preserve rural areas (outside urban growth boundaries and the Sound Transit boundary) and protect those areas from increased development pressure. I used to live outside of the RTA Boundary, but I have recently moved and currently my new residence is determined to be inside of the boundary. Will I need to pay the RTA Tax?

I live in a new development that is inside of the boundary, but when the RTA Tax was passed the building did not exist. Will I be charged the RTA Tax? Yes on both accounts. If you moved to a new residence that is inside of the boundary, you will be assessed the RTA Tax on your upcoming vehicle license renewal notice. The RTA Tax will need to be paid. Please note, per the Department of Licensing's Web site ( "A new address must be reported to the Department of Licensing within 10 days following any change." Details here If you are currently residing in a "new development," regardless of whether the building existed or not, if the property/land is inside of the RTA Boundary when Sound Move was approved, there will be a RTA Tax assessment on vehicles registered at your current residence.

How is the RTA tax determined and calculated? The Department of Licensing uses the first published base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of a vehicle for RTA tax purposes, except for commercial trucks and trailers. The RTA tax on these types of vehicles is calculated based on the latest purchase price and year. To determine the RTA Tax calculation, please visit the Department of Licensing's Web site. If my property is determined to be inside of the RTA Boundary and I have not paid the RTA Tax for prior years, do I need to pay for the years that were missed? Sound Transit does not back-bill for previous-year taxes, so you will not be assessed any additional amounts. However, from this point on the RTA Tax being assessed will need to be paid. Currently, the Department of Licensing is utilizing the Department of Revenue's Geographic Information System (GIS) for address verification. By changing to the GIS system, the DOL has picked up a number of addresses that should have been assessed the RTA tax in previous years. You may access the Department of Revenue's GIS system by visiting their Web site ( Use their "Tax Rate Lookup Tool" to search the rates for your address. Please note that Department of Revenue updates their database on a quarterly basis. There may be situations where your address information is not accurately reflected in their records. If you need further assistance or would like to speak to someone, please refer to the contact list at the end of this FAQ

What vehicles are exempt from the RTA Tax?

The following, as listed in the Department of Licensing's Web site, may be allowed an exemption from the RTA Tax: Vehicles owned or leased by the state, or federal government, any Washington city or county, or any federally-recognized Washington Indian Tribe. Washington Native Americans living on their recognized reservations.

Disabled American Veterans, Medal of Honor recipients, or former Prisoners of War (limited to one personal-use vehicle per owner). Call 360.902.3770, then select option 5 if you have questions about this exemption.

Nonresident military personnel and their spouses (if co-owners) stationed in Washington. Vehicles taxed as personal property (including mobile homes, equipment, fixed-load vehicles, etc.). School buses and other passenger vehicles owned and operated by qualifying private schools. Rideshare vehicles. Mopeds. Snowmobiles.

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