Sound Transit is a step closer to getting its $15 billion spending package, ST3. Yesterday, the state House transportation committee passed a bill that would grant Sound Transit higher taxing authority.
The bill authorizes an increase of regressive taxes including motor vehicle excise (MVET), sales, and property taxes to pay for light rail expansion projects. If the bill clears the Legislature, Sound Transit will put ST3 on the ballot. The transit agency will ask voters to throw more of their hard-earned dollars into projects it has proven inept at completing on time and on budget.
Every Democrat voted for the Sound Transit legislation, except for Rep. Jim Moeller (D-49, Vancouver). According to Publicola, Moeller voted no because an amendment proposed by Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-20, Kalama) that prevents expanding similar taxing authority to other counties (including Clark County) passed. In other words, the only Democrat to vote no on granting an unsustainable increase in taxing authority (it would add more than $500 to every household’s tax burden) to an untrustworthy transit agency did so because he didn’t believe the bill spent enough money.
Rep. Jake Fey (D-27, Tacoma) proudly said of the bill’s passage, “Allowing Sound Transit to move forward with the third phase will be a big plus for commuters.”
What else would be a big plus for commuters? Completing promises made to commuters—who pay taxes to fund those promises—on time and on budget. To be clear, Sound Transit is only projected to complete ST1 in 2016, 10 years late at double the cost.
Perhaps an even bigger plus for commuters would be to simply complete phases one and two before even considering phase three, much less phases four and five. If an agency has proven incapable of completing tasks on time—as Sound Transit has time and time again—a better course of action for those funding its failures (the taxpayers) would be for the agency to concentrate on the project on hand, not continue scheming of ways to take further advantage of taxpayers.
Some advocates of ST3 argue that the Legislature should pass the Sound Transit bill, allowing voters to decide and democracy to take its course. The gaping weakness of that argument lies in that fact that Sound Transit is not, in its make-up, a democratic agency. All board members are appointed, not elected. That makes Sound Transit virtually unaccountable to voters for its broken promises.
Sound Transit is not asking the Legislature for a higher taxing authority in order to allow voters the opportunity to decide. If Sound Transit cared about voter say, it would initiate accountability reforms and allow voters to decide who presides in its governing body. No, the Legislature is faced with a bill that seeks to grant more taxing power to an agency that is not accountable to voters and has a long track record of large-scale broken promises. And, Democrats are all too willing to accommodate.