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Should voters be able to elect Sound Transit board members?

(File, MyNorthwest)

Sound Transit faced an inquiry last week into whether or not it misled the Washington State Legislature in order to place a $54 billion proposal on the 2016 ballot. This week, a hearing will look into whether or not Sound Transit also misled voters.

Senator Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) joined KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Friday to talk about the hearing, and how he believes Washington state voters can make a change.

Lawmakers grill Sound Transit over car tab fees

O’Ban wanted to investigate Sound Transit 3 (or, ST3), a $54 billion, 25-year mass transit project that expands the light rail system. While the project boosts public transportation, it also received a wave of criticism. This includes complaints from those concerned about a sudden spike in car-tab fees and Sound Transit’s release of 173,000 ORCA card-holder emails to a transit-centered political campaign in 2016.

The first part of the hearing concluded that Sound Transit did not display intent to mislead lawmakers; however, O’Ban plans to submit a report to demand that Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson revisits his conclusion that Sound Transit didn’t violate the law when the agency released customer emails.

“There’s no question to me that we made the case that they violated the law with respect to the 173,000 emails (that were sent to Mass Transit Now),” O’Ban said. “But you’re going to the much larger issue of the money that they’re extorting from the public through, I think, deceptive practices. And they’re lying to us, ‘Hey, we were every bit as clear with voters as we were with the Legislature.’ And I laughed at that point because I knew how deceptive they’d been with the Legislature.

“Here’s an example,” O’Ban continued. “We all know the car-tab tax — now, we know — is based upon an evaluation of Sound Transit’s concoction. That is, MSRP. And we know how unfair that is. I asked their chief communications officer, who prepared the pamphlet that went out before November to voters so that they would better understand ST3, ‘Where in there did you explain this MSRP depreciation schedule?”

Sound Transit used the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) value of taxpayer vehicles to determine car-tab fees. Critics argue, though, that the method is unfair because it typically results in a much higher cost for taxpayers, and doesn’t reflect the actual market value of the vehicle.  A Senate bill has since been introduced that would require Sound Transit to use another evaluation method, such as Kelley Blue Book.

O’Ban told Dori another way for voters to address their issues with car-tab fees and similar taxes is to demand lawmakers that Sound Transit board members be directly elected.

“The second thing we’ve got to do is correct a mistake the Legislature made, and I helped make that mistake, and that is we have to put a cap on their taxing authority. They can’t have open-ended taxing authority. Legislatures make mistakes all the time, and then they come back and correct them. This is one that has to be corrected. We’ve got to force them to come back to the Legislature, come back to the people, once they’ve spent, let’s say $15 billion, and show how they’ve accounted for that.”

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