The Sound Transit Board of Directors Thursday showed little interest in changing course on how it raises money from car tabs to fund the massive Sound Transit 3 transit expansion. Instead, many board members argued that the primary focus of the agency should be delivering on the Sound Transit 3 project approved by voters last fall, not rewriting the tax plan that was also included in the voter-approved measure.
The board met at Union Station for the first time since car owners in the Sound Transit taxing district began receiving their 2017 car tabs, which features a hefty increase to help pay for the 25-year, $54 billion plan. While ST3 would have caused the tabs to increase in price no matter what, for newer cars the impact has been even greater due an outdated method Sound Transit uses to determine the value of a car. That’s left some driver miffed, and in some ways reopened the debate over the massive transit plan.
Republicans in Olympia and some taxpayer advocates want Sound Transit to scrap that method for a more up-to-date one that hews closer to the Kelley Blue Book value of a car. Yet doing so would cost the agency $6 billion, and few on the board seemed interested in exploring what such a slash to the budget would do to Sound Transit’s ability to deliver on the plan it sold to voters.
“A promise is a promise. It’s a contract,” said Fred Butler, the mayor of Issaquah. Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, referring to the hard time suburban residents have getting to downtown Seattle, said, “If we don’t do these projects, it will take you five hours to get here in a few years.”
While crafting the ST3 plan, said King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, “We got 40,000 comments. They said, ‘We want this system built and we want it sooner than later.’”
Several of the board members suggested that the furor over the car tabs isn’t as great as it has been made to seem. Butler said he’s “heard one person in my community expressing concerns.” Balducci added, “I’m not receiving much pressure at all.”
Not to say there weren’t some angry taxpayers at the board meeting. One man accused Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff of being as duplicitous as Donald Trump (ouch!). Tim Eyman, ablaze in a garish orange t-shirt that said “$30 Car Tabs,” threw words like “terrorizing,” “immoral,” and “avarice and greed” at the board. He warned the car tab furor would grow louder as more people’s annual renewals came up.
“The current car tab revolt is only going to grow. The current outrage is only going to intensify,” he said.
The board did pass a resolution directing Rogoff to negotiate with lawmakers in Olympia on car tabs, but the language made clear that Sound Transit remained committed to delivering light rail and other projects to Ballard, West Seattle, Everett and Tacoma on time. Kent Keel, mayor pro tem of University Place, noted that the resolution didn’t leave much room for actual negotiation, since it didn’t allow for any fudging on the cost, scope or schedule of the plan. Board chair Dave Sommers suggested, vaguely, that there may be other ways to work out the problem. But in the end, ensuring that Sound Transit doesn’t back off its ambitious plan seemed to be precisely the point.