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Why a Sound Transit Board member voted for $30 tabs

(Sound Transit)

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier may have a seat on the Sound Transit Board of Directors, but when it came to 976 — the $30 tabs initiative that cuts billions from the transit agency — he sided with the majority of Washington voters and voted yes.

“I felt like as an individual voter, I needed to vote my conscience,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman focused during the campaign on Sound Transit’s use of an outdated vehicle valuation system to overvalue people’s cars and thus overtax their car tabs to fund ST3, the $54 billion light rail plan that passed in 2016.

Dammeier said that in his time on the Sound Transit Board, he has tried to persuade the other directors to find a different valuation system.

Dori: An Election Day to remember — the people fight back

“In all three of those years, I have been telling them very clearly at multiple meetings that they have got to resolve this unfair taxation schedule,” he said. “And if they don’t, then we’re going to be subject to backlash, there are going to be consequences.”

And indeed, it appears to Dammeier that some of that backlash showed itself in the ballot box. According to the latest ballot count, Pierce County voted 67 percent in favor of 976.

He said that his constituents complain to him on a daily basis about the cost of their tabs when compared with the public transportation provided in Pierce County by Sound Transit. ST3 is set to extend its north-south light rail line from King County down to Fife and Tacoma, to extend Tacoma Link, and to improve the Sounder Train in Pierce County, but these projects will not be completed for years.

“That, based on the perception that Sound Transit is taxing based on an unfair valuation of their cars, that sets people just over the edge … I know folks down here in Pierce County who are generally very supportive of things, from a taxation perspective, but the car tabs thing sets their hair on fire,” he said.

When Dammeier hears politicians attempting to undo I-976 — such as King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, both of whom are filing lawsuits against the measure — he feels that the voices of the voters are being squashed.

“I’m frustrated that people aren’t listening,” he said. “They’re aren’t listening to what’s coming out of Pierce County or Snohomish County — and this is the will of the voters.”

Steps forward for the Sound Transit Board

Above all, voters should not be punished for wanting lower car tabs, according to Dammeier.

“We all work for the citizens of the state of Washington, and to throw it on their head, if they don’t behave the way that we want them to, that they’re wrong — no,” he said. “If you don’t agree with what the voters did, you’ve got to get in line with it.”

That said, he believes that plans to expand public transport can still be accomplished, provided that Sound Transit tighten its belt, prioritize, and budget in a wiser manner.

“What are the real steps forward that we can do to comply with 976 and deliver the program to the greatest degree we can? I think that’s what Sound Transit should do … I believe there is a path to do that, if there is a will to do it, I believe there’s a path to do it,” he said. “Will it be difficult? Yes. But the voters have spoken.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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