We Must Block The Car Tab Bill Cuts To Sound Transit

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, talks to reporters, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, at the annual AP Legislative Preview at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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.

Sound Transit Supporters: The Campaign Is Not Over

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. 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.

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Personally, I don’t mind paying taxes and paying more relative to those of lesser means. But more and more these funds are being misused and mismanaged. Solutions seem to be around throwing more money at problems, which doesn’t fix the underlying issues. No way should these transit projects cost this much AND take that long. One or the other is reasonable, not both. I just don’t feel that what I contribute in taxes is improving my community or is making enough of a difference in peoples lives.


I’m not a fan of MIZ for affordable housing – but here is one idea.

Why don’t we consider offering an option to nearby property owners to upzone the land near the stations in exchange for money going towards transit?

Transit expansions disproportionately benefit those who are within walking distance of a station.

Back in 2013, the 3,000 square foot single family lots near the proposed Roosevelt Station instantly saw a jump in value from ~$300k to $1 million overnight due to an upzone to raise the height limit to 85 feet.

I am also a huge supporter of property rights. However, I think drastic upzones (i.e. changing from single family to a midrise 85 feet height limit) should have a price. You buy a property taking into account the current zoning of the property.

It is clear there is demand for midrises (or even highrises) to be built near transit stations and can be great low hanging fruit for ST to raise some or all of the funds needed to expand the light rail network.

Many cities around the world, like Hong Kong, fund transit this way.

And this is a win-win solution where transit can get funded from the fruits of the economic benefits it can create for our city and communities.

Riley Peper

In what world is 54% a healthy margin? It is just barely over half. If anything it’s closer to an even split than a healthy margin.


Changing my registration address to the in-laws out of RTA zone. Have fun with that one ST. Theft based on a repealed formula pure and simple. Why isn’t ST board elected directly?

Astrid Smith

They are elected directly. See the list at: https://www.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit/Board-of-Directors/Board-members and note that nearly all of them are mayors or city/county councilmembers.


That is called indirectly or appointed. Directly means they are elected for that position independently and therefore have accountability to all voters.

Mike Carr

Why is Pickovven harassing the commentators?


If your preference is for us to just ban people we can do that. I’m giving them a warning.

Riley Peper

Wait, you’re warning people that it is not okay to be disagreeable on a very very controversial topic in the public comments section of your article?


If you’d like to read my comments you’re welcome to. What you are characterizing is not what I said. However, I did say mischaracterizing what people said and being dishonest should earn a ban.


I know sometimes I am not great at communicating about controversial topics.

But, to be fair, your tone appeared to be very condescending to people who you think are not supporters of ST3.

Warren Trout

The tax is fraud. My car isn’t worth half what the​ lying government says it is.

If it’s worth that much, I’ll sell it to you at 75% and you can resell it for, so called, full value and make money.

Doubt if I get any takers! Hypocrites!


It doesn’t matter how the valuation works. It matters how much money is raised. We can change the way the valuation works and raise the same amount of money. If you have a newer car you’ll pay less. If you have an older car you’ll pay more.


It does matter. They should have asked more than .8 percent if that’s what they need. I may have not voted yes then. Inflating the valuend feels sneaky and dishonest


It’s the same valuation method that was already used. So people who actually cared about this could have easily used the calculators (even the o e provided by Sound Transit) or looked at the previous amount they paid.

Cristofer Horbelt

It’s also the reason Tim Eyman’s car tab initiative was successful. You should learn from your mistakes.


While successful at the ballot, it was later thrown out by the court.

Since then Eyman has attempted two more initiatives to block car tab increases and didn’t even collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. It’s hard to say if an initiative could qualify for the ballot now. If one did qualify, it’s hard to say if it could pass considering how different the political landscape is now compared to 2000.

Cristofer Horbelt

And then what did the legislature do? I’ll give you a hint; its why STs valuation tables are still an issue now, that’s right, lawmakers actually saw the extent of how pissed off people were and passed the $30 car tabs themselves.


You’re mostly right that Eyman was successful in passing an initiative but the initiative was ultimately blocked. It took the legislature undermining transit to get the changes passed. Which seems relevant to this article we’re commenting on.

Cristofer Horbelt

You say undermining transit, I say representing the will of the people. Regardless, as I said: you should’ve learned from your mistake the first time b/c it looks like enough of people are sick of being overtaxed that the legislature is going to step in again.


I want to see a published list of all the democrats who voted for this. As long as I live in this state, I will vote against them and donate to their opponents.


You can get the list of the legislators who voted this bill out of committee here:


The “majority report” link will show you each of their names.

Dan Ryan

All of them voted for it. Almost as if legislators don’t share your view that this is a bad deal for transit.


Any “lost” revenue resulting from the proposed change to the vehicle value schedule would be insignificant.

Any Sound Transit supporters think they can estimate how much tax revenue the “as is” financing plan would bring in? That amount is a function of the bond sale contract security pledges the board adopted after the ST3 vote, not capital costs and the expected necessary operations subsidy. Even $6 billion less tax revenue — which could be made up for by issuing fare-revenue backed debt and/or LID assessment-backed bonds — would not be a material decrease.

Here’s my estimate: $169 billion. This year Sound Transit expects to haul in about $1.4 billion of tax revenue. Assume a growth rate of 5%. Basic algebra provides the means for determining the aggregate of the annual tax revenue figures over the upcoming four-decade stretch. It’s a straightforward calculation: the sum of a 40-term geometric series, with a common ratio of (1.05), where the initial value is $1.4 billion. The math reveals a figure of $169 billion. Here’s a calculator ( http://keisan.casio.com/exec/system/1234231998 ).

Several of the staff reports from late 11/16 say the maximum tax rates won’t be reduced until the mid-2050’s, some 15 years after the ST3 projects should be completed. That’s why the taxing is expected to be so heavy, and so much worse than any peer uses to build light rail.


It simply dishonest to say that cuts wouldn’t matter with any high level of confidence. Is it going to be less money or not? ST asked for a specific amount of money to do the projects people wanted and voted for. If you think less money is insignificant because they’ll be able to do all the same projects at the same speed then you are arm-chair quarterbacking the complex financial esimates that ST did. If you think it’s insignificant because it will cut a small amount of projects then you’re just not actually supportive of the ST3 package.


— “ST asked for a specific amount of money to do the projects people wanted and voted for” —

That’s not true, at all. Here’s the link to the voter’s guide with the ST3 ballot measure:


The voters were not asked to approve a specific amount of tax revenue, or even approve a specific amount to be spent on the projects identified in the plan. As far as car tab taxes go, they only were told a rate would be increased and they weren’t told how the vehicles would be valued.

That’s the problem with Sound Transit supporters — they’re well-intentioned, but uninformed about the details. People like you thought you were voting for “a specific amount of money to do the [ST3] projects” because the campaign materials said that’s what the proposition entailed. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but you weren’t told the truth. Read the ballot measure now [page 47 of the voters guide] to find out what really was approved in November.


Please don’t twist my words by being uncharitable with your interpretation and assuming I’m stupid. Sound transit asked for a taxing authority to raise the amount of money they think they need to build the projects. If they raise less money it will likely affect the projects than can build.

If you’re actually concerned, you can clarify that you voted for and fully support the ST3 projects. Otherwise your just trolling about taxing authority when the real issue is you don’t support ST3.


—- “Sound transit asked for a taxing authority to raise the amount of money they think they need to build the projects.” —

That is incorrect as well. The state legislature granted authority for the board to raise tax rates by certain amounts in the 2015 special session. It wasn’t until a year later that the board adopted the plan it would put on the ballot which included the descriptions of the several “ST3” projects. The amount of taxing the financing plan likely will entail was not approved by voters (or even suggested by anything the ballot measure said), and it will exceed by scores of billions of dollars the amount of tax revenue Sound Transit estimates it will “need to build the projects.”

You’re really far off the mark when you try describing both what the ballot measure said and what taxing the financing plan would entail. This seems to be a pervasive problem among Sound Transit’s supporters.

That loyalty oath you want me to provide is something I never would affirm, and it’s not because I’m anti-transit or anti-trains (far from it). People who are not loyalists should bring up questions and concerns about public finance issues, especially when they involve this kind of financing plan, which no peer utilizes.
Doug Trumm is from the Twin Cities (that’s indicated on his bio). Ask him how the Blue LIne there was financed — that’s the right kind of reasonable financing for a new light rail line to serve an urban metro region.


The campaign is over. No one has the time or patience anymore to respond endlessly to people raising the same concerns that have already been addressed and were overwhelmingly rejected at the ballot box.

I’m obviously not asking for a loyalty oath. I’m asking for honesty. If you’re motivated to improve on ST3, you can clarify that by showing you supported the projects. Otherwise, we can all just agree that we disagree on whether ST3 was worthwhile. At the moment though, you’re just wasting everyone’s time by being dishonest about your real motivation.

Consider this your last warning on the personal attacks.


I don’t know the details here but are there ways for ST to run more efficiently and cut costs?

Embrace frugality like Amazon? 🙂

From what I know, government projects almost always end up behind schedule and over budget. Never worked with the government closely enough to figure out why.

But in the business world, it’s always about figuring out how to “do more with less.”