EDITORIAL | Voters approved light rail expansion, not lower car tabs

It’s a fact that has gotten lost in the wave of flabbergasted taxpayers and legislative handwringing in Olympia in recent weeks: Voters approved ST3 in November. In fact, more than 100,000 more people voted yes on the measure than voted no. The margin wasn’t exactly a squeaker, and the message was clear: More light rail, please!

Not that you would necessarily know that from the deluge of complaints about skyrocketing car tab fees that vehicle owners have been receiving in the mail.

Indeed, many seem shocked by the spike, especially those with newer vehicles.

If only there had been a way to know this would happen before voting on the measure. If only someone had told us our taxes would be going up!

That’s the thing. They did.

Proponents of Proposition 1 were clear from the beginning that this was a $54 billion project and that, on average, a “typical taxpayer” would be paying approximately $170 a year toward the measure. Of course, averages can be deceiving, and that median figure meant that half of taxpayers would be expected to pay more. That’s why there was also a calculator on the ST3 site for voters to get an estimate based on their household size, pre-tax income (for sales tax purposes), current RTA tax amount (for the motor vehicle excise tax, or car tabs), and assessed property value.

If the cost was hidden from us, it was hidden in plain sight. 

To act as if voters did not, in essence, understand what they were voting for is somewhat insulting to the electorate. And to force Sound Transit into using a different car tab calculation than the one approved by voters feels like little more than an attempt to subvert the public’s appetite to invest in light rail.

Why should we think Sound Transit has an obligation to lower the car-tab taxes that voters approved, and to do so at the expense of the timeline and scope of the projects they voted to build?

Think of it this way: Would the result of ST3 have been significantly different with a more reflective depreciation schedule, but higher tax rate? Probably not.

Last week, Sound Transit officials estimated the cost of adopting the Kelly Blue Book car value to calculate taxes instead of MSRP at $6 billion. With a b.

Building the light rail segment between Chinatown and Ballard, as planned in ST3, is estimated to cost $4.4 billion.

Is that something the voters would want? Are they willing to trade off on the scope of the measure to have slightly lower car tabs? Quite frankly, that seems unlikely.

People didn’t vote for cheap car tabs. They voted for expanded mass transit.

To hamstring those efforts is what would truly go against the will of the voters.