Sound Transit will be in legislative spotlight

Lawmakers insisted throughout the 2018 session they wanted to provide some car tab relief but adjourned without doing anything.

Sound Transit should count on getting a share of attention from state lawmakers in the upcoming session.

Car tab relief is one topic. How directors of the regional transit authority are chosen is another. And revoting on how the agency’s newest taxes and expansion could be up for discussion too.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, an unwavering critic of the mass transit agency, will be initiating many of the conversations. But he hopes they won’t all wind up as monologues given that his party is outnumbered in both chambers.

“I know Democrats are in control,” he said. “It’s important to keep attention on these matters. I just think Sound Transit is so poorly governed and has way too much money for its own good.”

Those car tab fees should land atop the things-to-talk-about list. They surged inside the transit authority after voters in 2016 approved a near quadrupling of the motor vehicle excise tax rate to help finance a massive expansion of the light rail system.

Democrat and Republican lawmakers insisted throughout the 2018 session they wanted to provide some relief but adjourned without doing anything.

The House and Senate each passed bills requiring Sound Transit to stop using a 1990s-era vehicle depreciation schedule when calculating the fees and switch to a grid drawn up in 2006 that better reflects a car’s actual value.

Vehicle owners stood to save a few bucks. But Sound Transit said it stood to lose out on as much as $780 million in car tab collections in the coming quarter century, money counted on for financing parts of the expansion. Democrats in the Senate wanted to keep the agency whole, their House counterparts not so much. They never agreed on what to do.

This year O’Ban will make another run at letting voters elect the directors of Sound Transit, a move he argues would increase accountability of the agency’s day-to-day operations.

The Sound Transit board is now appointed. It is made up of 17 local elected officials — 10 from King County, four from Pierce County and three from Snohomish County. The executive in each county makes the appointments. The approach is defended as the best way to force leaders of the region’s cities, counties and transit agencies to work together on expansion like the 2016 plan.

O’Ban said he’ll introduce legislation to carve Sound Transit into 11 districts of roughly equal population. One person would be elected from each district. These would be nonpartisan offices.

It will be similar to his bill that the Senate passed twice in 2017 but the House didn’t consider. Although Republicans ran the Senate then, Senate Bill 5001 garnered votes from three members of the Democratic caucus — Guy Palumbo of Maltby, Steve Conway of Tacoma, and Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma. Those three are still around and at least one may be interested in co-sponsoring this year’s version.

O’Ban has already pre-filed a bill to let voters in any or all of the three counties served by Sound Transit nullify its most recent tax increases via a local initiative.

And, another piece of legislation drafted by the Pierce County lawmaker would put the 2016 mega expansion plan back on the ballot if a future audit finds its costs exceed $54 billion — the estimated tab including financing expenses — or if directors veer from the approved blueprint with significant additions or subtractions of projects.

Those latter ones are unlikely to even get a hearing. But their presence signify the degree to which Sound Transit is an ongoing concern for some Puget Sound lawmakers that cannot be completely ignored in 2019.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Let’s clear the air on wildfires, climate change

Agreement and commitment is needed to address the causes of wildfires and climate change.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Republican’s write-in campaign highlights post-primary intrigue | Roegner

Can former Bothell mayor beat two Democrats for lieutenant governor post?

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
What does it mean to violate the Hatch Act? | Roegner

The federal law was established in 1939.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Editorial: State lawmakers shouldn’t wait to start budget work

Making tough choices on cuts and revenue can’t wait until next year and hopes for better news.

Rico Thomas, left, has been a clerk in the Fuel Center/Mini Mart at Safeway in Federal Way for the past 5 years. Kyong Barry, right, has been with Albertsons for 18 years and is a front end supervisor in Auburn. Both are active members of UFCW 21. Courtesy photos
Grocery store workers deserve respect and hazard pay | Guest column

As grocery store workers in King County, we experience the hard, cold… Continue reading

Face masks save lives and jobs across Washington

Wearing a mask saves lives and saves jobs. And all across the… Continue reading

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Reopen schools in fall, but do it safely

Don’t bully schools into reopening. Protect our students.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

Doreen Davis, left in mask, waves at parade participants on May 2. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
Wear your face-hugging, ever-loving mask | Editorial

“Don’t make me come down there.” — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,… Continue reading

Back to the wild — a whole new outdoor recreation world | Guest editorial

When enjoying the great outdoors, continue to socially distance and be aware of how else COVID-19 has changed our world.

KCLS is stepping up its commitment to patrons

KCLS has expanding its online resources so patrons can continue to learn, build skills, stay entertained and remain mentally and physically active amid the pandemic.

The true meaning of community | Guest editorial

LWTech president Dr. Amy Morrison reflects on how the COVID-19 outbreak has brought the community together.