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Senator’s bill seeks direct elections to Sound Transit board

Sound Transit. (Sound Transit photo)

Sound Transit could soon find its power limited if a new bill introduced by 28th District Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) finds success this Legislative session.

SB 5220 would mandate that the members of the Sound Transit Board of Directors be elected by the people, rather than appointed.

RELATED: Legislator calls on South Transit to reject pay raise for CEO Peter Rogoff

Currently, the 18-member board includes the state Department of Transportation secretary, the executives from King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, and other local elected officials appointed by those executives.

“I’ve got two Democrats now who have actually signed onto the bill — that’s never happened before,” O’Ban said, referring to Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) and Sen. Steve Conway (D-South Tacoma). “I think they’re seeing, and their constituents are telling them, how out-of-control Sound Transit is, and we need to bring transparency and accountability to that regime.”

One example of a lack of accountability, in O’Ban’s view, was the board’s recent renewal of CEO Peter Rogoff’s contract for another three years, along with an 11-percent pay increase — bringing his salary and benefits to $425,000 — as well as a $16,000 bonus.

Not only are Sound Transit’s light rail projects years late and billions over budget, O’Ban said, but Rogoff himself ran into criticism over his controversial treatment of employees in the office, including allegations of workplace sexism.

“This could only happen by a Sound Transit board that’s out-of-touch,” O’Ban said.

O’Ban’s bill would create a five-member commission, made up of members appointed by the governor, to establish 11 Sound Transit voting districts sometime this year. During the board elections that would follow, current elected officials would be ineligible to run.

It’s a system, O’Ban believes, that would relieve much of the frustration felt by taxpayers.

“This [lack of accountability] would not happen, I submit, if we returned to our roots as Americans and we required that there be representation if we’re going to give a body like this the power to tax us,” he said. “That’s what we revolted from the British on; I think people are revolting from Sound Transit.”

He pointed out that “outside of Seattle, even in King County, and certainly in Pierce and Snohomish, there is a substantial majority of car tab taxpayers who want to see relief.”

These people, he believes, would only vote for Sound Transit board candidates who would promise to cut car tab taxes, which increased dramatically after the 2016 passage of $54 billion light rail measure Sound Transit 3.

O’Ban has introduced bills to reduce Sound Transit’s car tab taxes, but they have not passed.

However, the voters themselves will get a chance to decide how high car tab taxes should be. Initiative 976 on the November ballot, sponsored by Tim Eyman, would take license tabs down to a flat $30 per vehicle.

“The $30 car tab tax initiative is entirely predictable when the Legislature did nothing after this deceptive car tab tax … This is what you get when you don’t do your job to lead,” he said.

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