We want to echo what Seattle Subway wrote in the Seattle Transit Blog and encourage our readers to contact Governor Jay Inslee (D-Washington) and urge him to veto any recent cuts to Sound Transit’s funding that appear headed for his desk. We would suggest adding House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Wallingford) to the action alert since he has the power to bury the bill rather than let Democrats carry out self sabotage. Email him at Frank.Chopp@leg.wa.gov or call his office at 360.786.7920.
A bill to reduce the car tab fees that help fund Sound Transit 3 (ST3) recently passed the Republican-controlled State Senate and most transit advocates hoped the Democrat-controlled State House would relegate it to the trash bin. To our dismay, Democrats in the State House transportation committee passed their own car tab bill yesterday moving the cuts forward. Democrat Mike Pelicciotti (D-Federal Way) was the lead sponsor on House Bill 2201 which passed the committee a 20-5 vote. The Everett Herald reported Sound Transit would sustain $780 million in lost revenue:
Under House Bill 2201, the regional transit authority must stop using a two-decade-old depreciation schedule which overvalues vehicles and start using one adopted by the Legislature in 2006 which better reflects a car’s actual worth.
Sound Transit would give owners a credit for any extra they paid under the old method, or a refund if they’ve already spent money to renew their tabs. This approach would provide an estimated $780 million in rebates for car owners through 2028, according to Democratic lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the senate bill would apparently cost Sound Transit more than $6 billion in funding when debt financing is factored in. How those two bills are reconciled, if at all, would determine the magnitude of the hit to Sound Transit’s finances. The house bill first alleged that its smaller $780 million cut would readily be absorbed and not delay projects, before later acknowledging it may cause problems by instructing Sound Transit to shrink new structured parking if funding gaps cause delays. (Silver lining: urbanists like Josh Feit would be very happy about smaller parking garages.) Cutting commuter rail was also suggested as a cost savings measure. Sorry, DuPont.
Note, that the uproar over car tabs would fix itself in 2029, anyway. “By law, Sound Transit must switch entirely to the newer schedule in 2029 when bonds from the first two phases of expansion are retired. Those were sold with an assumption of car tab collections tied to the older schedule,” Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald reported.
Let’s be clear: Sound Transit 3 was passed by a healthy margin 54% to 46% and the finances were widely reported. In fact, our region’s largest paper, The Seattle Times was actively trying to kill ST3 and magnifying every perceived flaw. Needless to say, the anti-tax zealots on the Seattle Times Editorial Board brought up the car tab fees. We knew what we were voting for and a majority supported it; the State Legislature changing it now could be unconstitutional and it certainly puts federal loans in jeopardy. House Speaker Chopp, please spare us the embarrassment. And Governor Inslee, should it come to your desk, veto it.
Here’s what Seattle Subway wrote in their action alert:
Democrats in the Washington State House have passed a bill out of committee that will cut $6 billion dollars from the voter approved Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package. Following a well worn Democratic strategy of caving to the slightest pressure from the right, this signals that Democrats intend to pass the bill out of the State House. The bill will then be sent to the Senate where it will be further degraded and then sent to the Governor.
In passing this bill, Democrats seem to give in to magical thinking: “While this would reduce a stream of revenue on which Sound Transit depends for future expansions, Democrats said it won’t impair the transit agency’s ability to carry out the $54 billion worth of projects in the Sound Transit 3 plan as promised.” This is an entirely unsupported statement. Overriding the will of the voters and cutting transit funding will, in 100% of cases, lead to less transit and to transit built more slowly.
House Democrats now appear to be a lost cause. Let Governor Jay Inslee know that this attempt to override voters is entirely unacceptable. Puget Sound voters were clear in their support of transit expansion. Further, making changes after the vote is an act of bad faith in regards to the state transportation bill passed in 2015. ST3 funding was a hard fought win for the Puget Sound Region in that negotiation – which also funds billions in highway expansion without any public vote.
Transit has a sad history in this state and tends to be the focus of constant second guessing and lack of investment. Washington is dead last in transit funding at the state level and has the most regressive taxes in the country.
Here the issues intersect: The most progressive funding source in our state is being attacked in an effort to cut transit funding.
At the same time Democrats in Olympia are pushing cuts to local funding, Trump and Republicans are pushing for billions of dollars of cuts to ST2 and ST3 projects at the Federal level.
Governor Inslee: This is an opportunity to be on the right side of history and support a better, more environmentally responsible future for our state. Please veto this bill.
Contact Governor Inslee here and let him know you support a veto by emailing him, faxing him at 360-753-4110, or calling his office at 360-902-4111.
The featured image is credited to AP Photo/Ted S. Warren.
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.