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Dispatch from Olympia: Bills Will Delay Sound Transit

Posted by Carla Chavez at Mar 06, 2017 07:25 PM |
Why is the State Senate trying to delay Sound Transit projects?

Today the Washington State Senate transportation committee met to discuss multiple measures that would undermine the implementation of the voter-approved Sound Transit 3 ballot measure. These bills would roll back voter-approved taxes and restructure Sound Transit governance, resulting in a delay of implementation and ignoring the will of the voters to expand and improve our region’s mass transit system.

Let’s look at each bill:

SB 5001: Modifying the election and authority of regional transit authority board members.

Currently, the Sound Transit board is comprised of 18 elected officials from King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, who are appointed by their respective county executives. SB 5001 would call for the direct election of a total of 11 board members, whose districts would be defined by a new districting commission appointed by the governor. These elected board members would not be able to concurrently hold another elected office.

Transportation Choices is strongly committed to accountability and good governance for all transit agencies. While on the surface this bill looks like it would be good for transparency and oversight, we believe the bill will do more harm than good:

1.  Our system is regional in focus and scope, and the current board is structured to best serve all residents of the Puget Sound. If the Sound Transit board were to be directly elected, we are concerned that decisions would miss important opportunities for regional planning as board members would be beholden to a small part of the larger system.

2.  Under this proposal, these new board positions would also receive stipends and paid staff, which would add additional costs for the region, taking resources away from building transit. Moreover, the time spent restructuring the board would be a distraction that could result in delayed projects.

3.   Sound Transit currently has AAA bond ratings – we are concerned that confusion and unstable oversight of the board could compromise the agency’s bond rating, resulting in diversion of resources from transit, further delaying projects.

SB 5817 & SB 5854: Nullifying the imposition of certain taxes within regional transit authority boundaries.

SB 5817 and SB 5854 would give local cities and counties the authority to opt out of paying Sound Transit taxes. Transportation Choices strongly opposes these bills. Voters within the Sound Transit taxing district approved Sound Transit 3 last November with 54% support. Giving localities to opt out of investing in growing our regional transit system threatens Sound Transit’s ability to build out a regional system and undermines our region’s collective transportation future.

SB 5851: Concerning the valuation of motor vehicles for purposes of determining excise taxes.

SB 5851 would alter the Revised Code of Washington to set the value of a motor vehicle by Kelly Blue Book values or National Automobile Dealers Association values.

The Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) is one of the more progressive taxes available in our state – because it is based on the value of your car rather than a flat rate. Any effort to update Sound Transit’s MVET collection process should be done in a way that does not compromise project delivery and finances the way this bill does.

Transportation Choices led the 2016 coalition of business, labor, environment, and community organizations to support the passage of Sound Transit 3 that succeeded last November. Our broad coalition attended hundreds of events and talked to thousands of voters in 2016. It was clear from our community engagement that the main priority of voters is to find solutions to get more transit faster. Unfortunately, the above bills jeopardize the ability of Sound Transit to deliver this transit on time.

What can you do to help?

Contact your legislators (find their contact information here). Emails are great, phone calls are better! Let them know you want more transit without delays. You can also visit the pages for the bill and leave your comments there.

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