LIGHT RAIL: How might I-976 affect it, for West Seattle and elsewhere?

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Just a few hours before tonight’s Sound Transit “neighborhood forum” in West Seattle (6 pm, Alki Masonic Center), the ST Board‘s regular meeting centered on a briefing/discussion about the effects of Initiative 976:

We were downtown for the meeting, which – after an occasionally raucous public-comment period – began with ST staffers briefing the board. First – “where we are” in terms of ST’s current timeline for expansion programs. If revenue were cut, the projects through 2024, the board was told, would be the “last places” they’d cut. But the projects starting with 2030 – projected opening date for the West Seattle extension – potentially different story.

General counsel Desmond Brown then opened with toplines on “what 976 says and does.” … “The provisions repealing our taxes do not take effect at this time,” but rather once $2.3 billion in outstanding bonds and debt are paid off – and it’s up to the board when those debts/bonds will be retired.
(Added – from the slide-deck printout, the relevant ballot-pamphlet language:)

The outstanding bond contracts provide for motor-vehicle-excise taxes and rental-car rates staying at the current rates until those are paid off. Brown said. He also noted that the initiative is now being challenged in court, and if it stands, there will probably be an ensuing lawsuit about when that debt has to be retired. Could ST be forced to retire it sooner? There’s legal precedent on that, Brown said.

CEO Peter Rogoff pointed out that other agencies “that feed passengers to Sound Transit” – such as Metro – are nonetheless facing “very serious” challenges because of 976. Other transit agencies face a “devastating” loss of revenue, and service to their users. “Sound Transit cares deeply about what happens to all our partners,” Rogoff said.

Chief Financial Officer Tracy Butler picked up from there. If the bonds were “defeased,” it would mean $7.2 billion less in revenue through 2041, and the agency could run out of “financial capacity as early as 2029” – which means ST could have to cancel or delay projects and/or reduce services.

But delaying wouldn’t be much of a solution, Butler said. Say, projects are delayed by five years – that could cost $6 billion more in capital costs, %16 billion in added interest through 2061, and could delay a “tax rollback” for 12 years, costing taxpayers $25 billion more in additional taxes through 2061 “to fund a delayed voter-approved program.”

Board chair John Marchione said the reason voters approved ST3 was a recognition that transit expansion was long overdue. “This is our region’s transportation catch-up plan” and the investments require a tax investment. “The only available sources are the sales tax, property tax, and MVET. Nobody loves writing a big check for (vehicle renewals)” but he believes voters spoke loudly with ST3 – and that was louder than the margin, in the ST district, spoke with 976:

After a closed-door executive session, the board emerged to discuss its “response to 976.” It was first announced that ST won’t take any of its own legal action right now – they have to keep reviewing the “legal issues” and monitoring the other litigation. So individual board members were invited to speak. Only two did, neither from Seattle/King County. The first warned that the board had best not just focus on its “district” but should pay attention to the “frustration” elsewhere in the region and state. And he said the valuation discrepancy that led to the taxation rate made that frustration worse. “We have got to get this resolved – people need to believe they’re paying car tabs based on an accurate valuation of their vehicle.” Another board member said it’s important to keep the pressure on the Legislature.

So bottom line remains “too soon to say” what happens next, but there’s a chance West Seattle light rail could be delayed or even canceled as part of a worst-case scenario.

Earlier in the meeting:

PUBLIC COMMENT: In this section of the meeting, before the 976 discussion, Youngstown property owner Dennis Noland spoke first, thanking the board for agreeing to include the Andover/Yancy alternative in environmental studies. He was followed by Tim Eyman, author of 976, who called his initiative an “overwhelming repudiation” of ST. “People outside Seattle have no voice any more.” Eyman then declared he was running for governor next year and at that point got booted from the microphone, with an explanation that “campaigning” isn’t allowed. Someone briefly chanted “let him talk” while someone counter-chanted “No campaigning.” … Other speakers were both pro and con 976. Two speakers in particular called out the effects that 976 could have on people with disabilities.

TONIGHT’S MEETING: Again, if you see this before 6 pm, that’s when ST’s West Seattle “neighborhood forum” begins – all welcome – Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th SW.

ADDED: Post-board meeting, ST published this statement from board chair Marchione.

51 Replies to "LIGHT RAIL: How might I-976 affect it, for West Seattle and elsewhere?"

  • West Seattle Hipster November 21, 2019 (4:34 pm)

    How anyone could vote for any of Eyman’s initiatives is baffling to me.  Enjoy your $30 tabs while being stuck in traffic the rest of your lives.

    • D Del Rio November 22, 2019 (11:28 am)

      How anyone could re-elect Herbold is beyond me too.

  • Also John November 21, 2019 (4:51 pm)

    I hope Santa gives Tim Eyman a lump of coal this year.

  • flimflam November 21, 2019 (5:17 pm)

    how did this even get to a vote if all of this aftermath was possible? not sure i understand…

    • neighbor November 22, 2019 (8:24 am)

      Unfortunately, the legality or constitutionality of an initiative can’t be challenged before it goes to the voters. If I understand it correctly, state law requires an “injured party” for a challenge to be considered, and until something is voted in there isn’t one. Personally I think that’s the root of the problem and we need to change that law so that we can stop voting on things that will only result in endless court challenges. All of which costs us all a lot of money to produce nothing.

      If initiatives had the burden of proving their legality prior to being on the ballot we’d see a lot less of this, and we could use our tax dollars for things we actually need.

  • TJ November 21, 2019 (5:22 pm)

    This all could have been avoided if the legislature had some guts and fixed the bogus car valuation scheme. While I was as for 976, I hope the lawsuit actually wins. That will kill Sound Transit support outside of Seattle for any future projects. Suing the voters never builds support 

  • Jort November 21, 2019 (5:48 pm)

    I’m a bit confused, it sounds like ST is saying they’re going to collect the tabs, regardless. They’re making it sound like 976 doesn’t apply to them. I like this stance and look forward to Tim Eyman hysterically losing his mind should this be the case. Keep charging the voter-approved tax and get our rail built. Unrelated side question: can you run for Governor from a jail cell? 

    • WSB November 21, 2019 (5:53 pm)

      They basically, according to voter pamphlet language called out in the slide deck (which still isn’t available electronically though I’ve been requesting it since pre-meeting, so I’m adding an image of that section of the hard-copy version), are entitled to.

      • chemist November 21, 2019 (7:19 pm)

        Kind of odd to focus on the language in the voter’s pamphlet, since that’s an explanation “written by the office of the attorney general” (which is also suing Tim Eyman in another matter) and that same pamphlet has the actual language of the written initiative in it.  When the actual initiative says “state and local motor vehicle license fees may not exceed $30 per year for motor vehicles” with no mention of service fees and then the AG’s office says “other fees may be included in the total amount, such as for county filing and service fees, fees for special license plates, or fees for certain types of vehicles” it’s like they weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye.  I guess oversights is typical of eyman initiatives.

  • justme November 21, 2019 (6:21 pm)

    This is what they get for deciding to use an outdated inflated unjust car evaluation calculation. What did they expect? We’d all roll over and play dead?

    • Peter November 22, 2019 (10:08 am)

      Sound Transit didn’t make that decision. The the authorizing legislation enacted by the legislature requires them use that valuation system. Stop blaming ST for what is out of their control.

  • zmmr November 21, 2019 (6:41 pm)

    Tim Eyman  for Governor!!!   yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHate to tell you all, Tim and Trump will win.

    • AJP November 21, 2019 (8:51 pm)

      You like guys who use donated funds to take himself out the movies? And guys who steal office furniture? Guys who don’t pay their contractors and then file bankruptcy? Cool. 

  • Mj November 21, 2019 (7:17 pm)

    20 years ago the unjust valuation schedule resulted in the first Eyman $30 car tabs passing.  Politicians did not learn from this!  The issue was festuring for several years and they did nothing.Regarding ST funding they could simply raise fares to increase revenue.

  • BettytheYeti November 21, 2019 (7:25 pm)

    @TJ the only person addressing the elephant in the room.  ST over reach with the car valuation.  As ST clutch their pearls over the overwhelming support over I-976 (which is in fact car tabs based on 10 year “fake” value of an automobile.)   Not surprising this passed regardless association with Tim E.Heck 44% of voters in King county agreed.

  • Lagartija Nick November 21, 2019 (7:28 pm)

    Eyman is infuriating! He spent the whole campaign saying 976 was about $30 tabs – not Sound Transit and now he’s admitting it was about killing ST after all. Additionally, his quip about voters outside of Seattle not having a voice is completely repudiated by the fact they just passed this vindictive initiative. I’m beyond ready for an initiative that says taxes collected within a county, stay in that county. Enough with the freeloaders in Eastern Washington stealing our tax dollars. Running for Governor? I sincerely hope Ferguson finishes his lawsuit against this grifting fraud soon. Hard to run for Governor from a jail cell. The arrogance of this putz is appalling!

    • 120rider November 21, 2019 (8:26 pm)

      well said!

    • dsa November 21, 2019 (8:55 pm)

      “…ready for an initiative that says taxes taxes collected within a county, stay in that county…”  Word of the day, thanks LN. 

      • CandrewB November 22, 2019 (5:30 am)

        Or even better, taxes collected from a household stay in that household as I am sure you would agree…

    • Really? November 21, 2019 (10:05 pm)

      You do understand that this initiative was largely carried in Snohomish & Pierce county who are in the taxation zone, but would be unlikely to see the benefits from Sound Transit? Are you good with those counties keeping the RTA excise taxes collected?  Not to mention voters from the East Side of King County? 

      • CAM November 22, 2019 (10:05 am)

        Those locations are intentionally getting transit improvements BEFORE areas of Seattle based on current timelines and plans. They were given priority to get them on board. 

      • Lagartija Nick November 22, 2019 (10:29 am)

        Cam is right that Snohomish and Pierce counties got priority to get them on board. If they now don’t want to pay for it, then I’m fine with light rail stopping at King County’s border.

      • wscommuter November 22, 2019 (9:01 am)

        Amen.  Westneat lays out the hard facts.  King County subsidizes the rest of the state.  We (King County) residents should propose a very simple ballot initiative: “keep tax revenue in the county that generates it”.  Then we should advertise the initiative and seek signatures state-wide.  It would then be amusing to watch politicians and pundits from Tacoma to Spokane screaming to their constituents “don’t sign the initiative – we are dependent on King County’s money.”  Once the initiative passes, by keeping our own money, we could build what we need to, while the rest of the state deals with their funding shortfalls.  

        • Lagartija Nick November 22, 2019 (10:33 am)

          The best part is that people outside of King County would vote for this in droves because they mistakingly believe their tax dollars go to us. The irony is rich.

  • Graciano November 21, 2019 (8:57 pm)

    Sound Transit will still get money,  they have been charging you the value of your car when it was brand new. Now they will have to use a fair market value according to Kelly Blue Book. Like it should be.Back when ST3 told everyone that the average car would pay about $40.00, they didn’t tell you they were going to collect $80.00 per $10K based on new car value. ST3 LIED to everyone.The State spend millions of our tax paying dollars to get you to vote No on I-976, They could have fixed a lot of bridges and roads with the money..

  • Mike November 21, 2019 (9:05 pm)

    Eat Dick’s Burgers, ST! Maybe if ST was honest we’d actually support them.

  • Mike Wall November 21, 2019 (9:25 pm)

    Over 1M Washingtonians voted to approve my-976 because of Sound Transits ILLEGAL method of calculating our car tabs.  Don’t hate Eyman – hate the politicians you sheep continue to vote into office. This was an initiative that was  led by Eyman who put a middle finger to the legislature that could have corrected ST’s illegal collections these  past few years- but chose to ignore us again.  I drive these roads every day- they sucked before and they probably will suck going forward.  Me for one- I like to take home more of my hard earned money that I earn.    I can spend it much more wisely that WA Govt!

    • AMD November 22, 2019 (11:00 am)

      What does that have to do with getting rid of rental car taxes?  Or limiting what taxes voters can approve in the future?  Or removing taxing authority?  Or any of the other things that were piled into the measure?  Every time i see someone screaming about the valuation method as the reason for voting “yes” on the measure, I find myself asking if they even read what they voted for.  Requiring the KBB value to be used for assessments was just a small piece of that legislation.  You passed a lot of other nonsense with it (although the multitude of separate changes contained in the initiative are what violates the law and are likely to get it repealed, so I guess the knife cuts both ways there).

  • dsa November 21, 2019 (11:13 pm)

     I just now read in Danny Westneat’s Times article that the state republican party endorsed I-976 and I-88.  This clears up  questions I had about  why the counties voted so oddly and pretty much in unison.

  • Jon Wright November 21, 2019 (11:47 pm)

    All this poppycock about I-976 passing because people were angry about the value of their vehicles that was used to compute ST3 taxes misses the mark. The people who voted for I-976 didn’t do so because of the valuation method, they voted for it because they didnt like having to pay so much! If the KBB value was used instead and as a result everyone’s tabs had gone down a hundred bucks, plenty of people still would have supported $30 tabs.

  • voter November 22, 2019 (6:28 am)

    Well said Mike Wall!!

  • Richard Maloney November 22, 2019 (8:18 am)

    We deserve everything we are getting.  

    • Scubafrog November 22, 2019 (2:24 pm)

      100% agree.

  • Mj November 22, 2019 (9:54 am)

    Jon you may be right, but I suspect that the unjust valuation tipped many voters choice on this matter

    • Wendell November 22, 2019 (11:27 am)

      I completely agree. I didn’t vote for 976, but I have to believe that’s what put this measure over the finish line in the minds of a lot of voters. I also believe there was time for the powers-that-be to fix the valuation issue, so here we are. More money being wasted on lawsuits.

      Personally speaking, the tabs for my daily commuter, a 2016 motorcycle that can get over 50mpg are $365.00. That’s  a lot of money for something that doesn’t damage the roadway, weighs no more than 600lbs and can get over 50 mpg. Commuting by bus isn’t an option for me.

  • Yes for I976 November 22, 2019 (10:00 am)

    The MVET propaganda machine really is in full swing with scary numbers thrown at the general public >.>    <.<     I guess what people are saying here is that they WANT over-evaluated vehicle taxes based outside of reality. Is that correct? We WANT to pay more for our vehicles than what they are actually worth, with no control or say over the incrementing, inflated projections for those valuations  over the years? I believe that is what many people voted against when they chose to vote yes on I976. My MAYBE $4300 motorcycle was over 70 dollars in just this tax. additional other taxes brought it up to 170 dollars to renew my tabs. My maybe $2000 car was the came price. How should that be anything but unfair?Here’s a brief history of our battle vs the MVET, since some of today’s voters believe this is all brand new, and are buying into the partyline.

    • Lagartija Nick November 22, 2019 (10:40 am)

      If 976 was about the valuation method and not about killing ST, then they should have written it to change it from MSRP to KBB (I probably would have voted for that). So clearly it wasn’t about valuation, it was about greed and sticking it to King County. In fact, Eyman just admitted that was the motivation.

      • KM November 22, 2019 (1:45 pm)

        Great point. The bottom line of this vote is that people don’t want to pay the total costs of supporting transportation infrastructure, incorrectly assuming everyone can drive (they cannot), and that car owners are already paying their fair share for their total cost to society (they aren’t, as they are subsidized more than other modes of transportation). But sure, raise transit fares!

    • Mickymse November 22, 2019 (12:37 pm)

      Why don’t we just cut all of the Republican, alternate reality b.s out already?

      1) Most of the people who voted for I-976 are not subject to MVET valuations and certainly are not subject to the expensive RTA (Sound Transit) taxes we pay here.

      2) The areas paying for Sound Transit are doing so because voters approved a ballot measure giving them permission to do so.

      3) Sound Transit didn’t create the valuation schedule. It was in the voters guide. There was a calculator on the ST3 campaign website.

      4) Finally, who ever said your MVET was based on the current value of your car? No one. Ever. Because that’s not how it works. It’s called a “depreciation schedule” for a reason. For Republicans who rage about running government more like a business you’d think they would be familiar with a standard practice used by businesses all across the country when valuing equipment and property. It’s a practice that is done to reduce administrative costs and resources and make finances predictable.

  • Peter November 22, 2019 (10:15 am)

    I’m kind of amazed that an economically illiterate career criminal like the unrepentant con artist and thief Tim Eyeman thinks he has even a remote chance of getting elected. Trump got elected on those same qualities, but not in Washington State, we’re smarter than that. On the other hand, we’re dumb enough to pass utterly idiotic measures like 967, so maybe we’re not that smart after all.

  • Ivan Weiss November 22, 2019 (11:46 am)

    Looks like Eyman wants to steal the Governor’s chair now. I suggest respectfully that we don’t allow it.

  • Scubafrog November 22, 2019 (2:24 pm)

    I could never understand how someone would vote eyman’s initiative.  $30 car tabs, at the expense of Public Transportation.  Great job, eymanites (durrrrrr I didn’t understand the language on the ballot hurrrr!1!

  • pemfir November 22, 2019 (3:45 pm)

    measures that will give people money back have a high chance of passing, we all love money, why should other counties contribute to Seattle transportation projects? the question is, among all options to give people money back, why was 976 selected.

  • My two cents ... November 22, 2019 (3:49 pm)

    Between Eyman on one side, and Sawant/Herbold on the other, its no wonder why we can’t move forward with pragmatic, realistic solutions to the issues & challenges of our community.

  • Chuck H November 23, 2019 (8:41 am)

    Once again misinformed voters vote against their own interests.  They don’t get that King County is the economic engine that pays their bills.  Transportation investments are the fuel that keep that economic engine generating that cash.  The ability to move goods and people efficiently is critical.  King County generates 44% of the revenue sent to Olympia. 44%.   If state budget was apportioned by contribution King would have plenty of money for many things, maybe even lower property taxes.  I don’t advocate that.  It is right that we contribute to rural area needs,.  However voters in those areas need to have a clearer idea of the return on investment they are getting from their contributions. Many get  200% back of what they contribute.  This initiative was rejected by King County voters, the ones paying the bills.  Read this:

  • Chuck H November 23, 2019 (8:50 am)

    If state funds were apportioned by contribution we’d likely have enough to pay for our own transit improvements.  But our neighbors around the state would feel the pain of cuts to basic services like fire protection, law enforcement,  schools, roads, etc.   Instead we will feel the  pain of reduced transit investments….or further King County only taxes to increase the burden of supplementing  the  rest of the states financial needs. 

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