House Democrats vote to cut public transportation funding

How did every House Democrat decide to vote to cut $780 million in funding for public transportation even though the majority of constituents voted for Sound Transit 3 back in November?

On April 10, Rep. Pellicciotti introduced a bill which would essentially lower car tab taxes and refund or credit people who already paid their car tab tax. This amounts to Sound Transit 3 losing approximately $780 million in funding over the next ten years.

On April 12, the bill passed the House 64-33.  House Democrats voted unanimously for the bill. They also rejected the Republican reform amendments introduced last week, which focused on letting cities and counties opt out of ST3.

The ST3 vote was a close one, with about 55 percent of voters approving the tax back in November. Most of those voters were from King County, with 70 percent of Seattle voters approving.

So now that House Democrats voted to roll back the tax, Democratic constituents feel betrayed by their party, which usually doesn’t cut public transportation.

The bill also creates a hierarchy of which projects to cut in case Sound Transit doesn’t have enough funds, beginning with parking projects, then moving on to commuter rail and bus service, and finally light rail projects.

Rep. Noel Frame shared her reasons for voting for the bill on her Facebook page.

I know I have a lot of friends out there concerned about the vote the House just took related to Sound Transit. I just cast my vote for EHB 2201 and I want you to know why, and what the bill really does.

This bill helps to address an issue of fundamental fairness without compromising transit projects. I proudly supported Sound Transit 3 (ST3), and our district voted for it with an overwhelming majority. Our voters were more than happy to tax themselves to make an investment in a transit system that will be a game changer for generations to come, and connect the 36th District’s own Ballard to the rest of the region by rail. However, they expected those taxes to be assessed fairly. And what doesn’t feel fair to many voters is to have taxes assessed against an inflated valuation of their car – a valuation they know isn’t accurate and doesn’t reflect reality.

For the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), EHB 2201 instructs Sound Transit to “buy down” the difference between the 1996 valuation schedule and the 2006 schedule, the latter of which more closely tracks to the commonly used Kelley Blue Book valuation. The difference would be credited on the car tab bill (or refunded if already paid). The total difference is about $780 million. This is a difference we believe Sound Transit can absorb over the next 10 years given they budget conservatively and have delivered previous projects on time and under budget.

To be clear, the bill does NOT do the following:

 – It does not force Sound Transit to use the newer car tab valuation schedule (so we do not put ST’s bonding at risk).

 – It does not reduce (or change) the valuation used to calculate car tabs.

 – It does not force Sound Transit to cut projects. In fact, we’re telling them not to.

We are telling them not to cut light rail projects by prioritizing the order by which they can make cuts at all. Specifically, they have to cut parking garages and other projects long before they get to cutting light rail.

This is the ONLY solution on the table that strikes the right balance, ensuring light rail and other ST3 projects are protected while providing fair tax relief to motorists. Other proposals want to gut billions out of Sound Transit, effectively killing public transit expansion in the Puget Sound. Sadly, we believe Republicans will continue to try to use this issue as a political football to dismantle Sound Transit. House Democrats are working every day to protect the promise made to voters when they approved ST3 last November.

EHB 2201 ensures light rail expansion will continue for generations to come. We must continue moving forward with expanding light rail across our region. ST3 grows our transit infrastructure, creates jobs, attracts businesses, and gets workers to their places of employment. The transit system we are building will get people around our region faster and safer.

So if this bill passes the Republican-held Senate, is it an example of strong bipartisanship in Olympia? Or will Governor Inslee veto it in order to prioritize public projects?