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John Batchelor


Sound Transit’s new ‘shell game’ with taxes

Car tabs. (KIRO 7)
LISTEN: Sen. Steve O'Ban calls Sound Transit's tax plan a shell game

Sound Transit is running a “shell game,” according to one legislator, with a proposed switch to the recently voter-approved ST3 tax package.

“The bill that (Sound Transit) has gotten behind, the only House bill that Democratic leadership allowed to be voted on, it has a very interesting shell game, as I describe it,” State Senator Steve O’Ban told KTTH’s Todd Herman Show. “They say, ‘Look, OK, we will move away from the MSRP formula to one that is more market based … and you’ll save about $40-50 a taxpayer with this bill.”

RELATED: Competing car tab bills in Olympia amid outcry

O’Ban, a Republican, notes that the bill does not propose Sound Transit pay for the funding change from its own resources. Instead, the bill aims to pay for the change through a property tax.

“Essentially they are saying, ‘We’ve taken it out of your front pocket, and we’ll pay for it out of your back pocket with a property tax when it is levied in a few months,” O’Ban said.

Sound Transit ran afoul of public opinion after it became known it was using an outdated method to calculate car tabs which fund its transit package. It used an MSRP calculation, instead of a method that more accurately represents a car’s value and depreciation. Sound Transit 3 was approved by voters and included car tab fees and property taxes. But many voters have since expressed buyer’s remorse.

Senator O’Ban has been on the front line pushing back against Sound Transit, sponsoring bills to alter how it taxes the public. But the transit agency has countered efforts in Olympia and backs the Democratic bill that O’Ban calls a “shell game.” O’Ban isn’t buying it.

“Here’s how I led off my for-argument in favor of my bill that would result in a deep, deep tax cut for voters,” O’Ban said. “I said this is an arrogant and unaccountable agency. And I stand by that characterization. When you have a board that is not elected by the people and yet it has this kind of taxing authority, you have a huge accountability and transparency problem.”

Sound Transit is run by a board composed of elected officials from the region’s counties and cities, but they are not specifically elected to serve on the agency’s board.

“That is the reason you have an unaccountable and, I think, arrogant agency, and until you reign in that problem — this is not the first of these kinds of offensive actions that Sound Transit is going to take,” O’Ban said.


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