Over half the revenue funding the Sound Transit Authority’s budget comes from car tabs, property taxes, and sales taxes collected in the Sound Transit District. The Board of Directors that writes and adopts that budget is primarily made up of elected officials — mayors, city council members, and county executives — who are appointed to the board.
If Sen. Steve O’Ban gets his way, though, that board will look almost entirely different after the 2020 elections. Since Sound Transit can tax the public, he wants the board to be elected by the public, not appointed.
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Some background: In 2017, O’Ban and former Sen. Dino Rossi called for an investigation into whether — among other things — Sound Transit purposely misled the Legislature in 2015 during its request for taxation authority.
During the 2015 session, Sound Transit repeatedly referenced its need for $15 billion in revenue over 15 years to fund ST3. However, after the Legislature ultimately granted Sound Transit taxation authority, Sound Transit proposed a $54 billion transit package to voters — nearly $28 billion of which would come from new local taxes. Voters approved it.
O’Ban’s support for direct election stems from a broader philosophical view about representative government, he said.
“Since the founding of our country, we’ve insisted on taxation with representation. It’s in our DNA as Americans. We even fought a war over it. So it’s indefensible to give taxation power to Sound Transit over our residences, car tabs and sales tax when its board is not elected by the people.”
Under O’Ban’s bill, SB 5220, a five-person commission would split the region served by the Authority into 11 voting districts. Voters in each district would elect a member to serve a four-year term on the board starting in 2020.
Candidates vying for spots on the board would have to be registered voters who live in the district and don’t hold public office. The secretary of WSDOT would remain in their spot, but as a non-voting member.
The bill is sponsored by senators from both sides of the aisle, with Democratic Sens. Guy Palumbo and Steve Conway signing on. Palumbo suggested that the size of Sound Transit’s budget was a key characteristic of his support.
“I support the bill not because I think the Sound Transit Board members are bad people. I know many of them, and they are wonderful public servants. This is simply a matter of good governance in my opinion. I believe any agency with $54 billion in taxing authority is too important to wall off from the voters. The board should be directly elected and accountable to the people.”
The bill has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee; O’Ban said there will be a hearing on the bill, but he’s not sure when it will take place. It’s not on the calendar yet.