Voters and lawmakers were well-informed about Sound Transit’s taxing plan before voting on ST3 in 2016, according to one Washington senator.
“The allegation that legislators were somehow duped into using this old depreciation schedule; the bill that we considered, that was drafted by Senate Republicans, Senate Bill 5987, says in the text that we’re going to use the depreciation schedule in effect in 1996,” said state Senator Jamie Pedersen.
“The bill report said specifically the depreciation schedule we would be using would be the old schedule, not the new one,” he said.
Pedersen, a Democrat, spoke with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson to explain the executive summary other senators on the Senate Law and Justice Committee released was, in fact, not an official report. The report was authored by Republican committee members and was not discussed by the entire group or voted on. But that is where the common ground ends. Dori, like others in Sound Transit’s district, argues that the agency has been dishonest about ST3 and other projects.
Costly car tabs is a perfect example. After ST3 was passed by voters, many were alarmed at the hike in car-tab fees. This is because Sound Transit opted to use a valuation schedule from the ’90s. It has led to some “buyers remorse.”
“The history of that depreciation schedule is that in the early ’90s … the tax rate was lowered by 50 percent and they put in place a depreciation schedule they knew overvalued vehicles; it was revenue neutral at the time,” Pedersen said. “Then people eventually forgot that the tax rate had come down …”
For ST3, Pedersen says the same amount of taxes would have been collected, even if the modern car tab calculations were used. The other forms of taxes in the package would have been higher, in turn. In that regard, he says the car-tab fees are fair.
“We could have a higher rate and lower value and produce the same numbers,” Pedersen said. “Ultimately, it’s the tax that is important, not the mechanism that results in calculating the tax.”
“It is fair. We live in a democracy and there was a very vigorous campaign about this,” he said. “… generally, about what the package would be, how long it would last, what the taxes would be, how much everybody would pay. The Seattle Times and Sound Transit both had tax calculators to help people understand what they would pay. And a majority of people who live in the Sound Transit area voted to make that investment. That’s how a democracy works.”
Dori does not share this perspective. Critics argue that voters would not naturally assume an out-dated method of valuing cars would be used. It’s par for the course for an agency that Dori says has been lying since the ’90s, and is late and over budget on all its projects.
“I look back to the year I was born, 1968, the voters of Seattle had the opportunity to build a subway system,” Pedersen said. “… that would have cost $1.5 billion; $300 million of that would have been paid by local taxpayers and $1.2 billion would have been appropriated by Congress to build that system. We passed up that golden opportunity. And we passed it up again in 1970.”
“And now we are paying the price for that as we are trying to build out a system that will make it possible for our economy, and our community to continue to grow and have the kind of opportunities we have become used to and take for granted,” he said. “Having a transit system is an important part of that.”