Senate Law and Justice Committee to investigate Sound Transit over ST3

Senator Mike Padden, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, announced that he plans to look into allegations that Sound Transit deliberately misled voters on ST3.

Senators Steve O’Ban and Dino Rossi requested the investigation in a letter to Padden and Senator Curtis King, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“We are concerned that Sound Transit may have engaged in a systematic effort to confuse and misrepresent the impact and cost of the ST3 authorization to legislators and the public” O’Ban and Rossi wrote.

O’Ban and Rossi outline three actions by Sound Transit they believe are worth investigating:

  • unconstitutional MVET authorization language
  • unclear length of authorization
  • improper participation in the Prop. 1 election

The senators allege that Sound Transit purposefully used opaque language to disguise the fact that they would use the older method of calculating car-tab fee, which had previously been repealed. They allege Sound Transit led legislators to believe they were approving $15 billion in taxing authority, not the $28 billion in new taxes for the $54 billion package in the ST3 measure. O’Ban and Rossi also allege Sound Transit downplayed the actual cost of ST3 to voters.

In his responding letter, Padden writes “I feel that the allegations raised in your letter are serious and merit further consideration.”

“There is no validity to any of the claims made by the senators” said Sound Transit in a statement. “Sound Transit is committed to delivering voter-approved projects and is busy doing so. This work not only includes our active light rail construction between Seattle and Bellevue and between the University of Washington and Northgate, but efforts now underway with newly approved investments that cumulatively will have us working on 24 projects by the end of 2017.

Back in March, O’Ban and Rossi sent a letter to Attorney General Ferguson asking the Ferguson to weigh in on the constitutionality of the increase in car-tab fees. The Office of the Attorney General did not issue an informal opinion as requested.

Legislators have tried to address voter outrage over the increase in car-tab fees this session. House Republicans introduced a series of amendments to let counties opt out of the taxes. Amid criticisms, they all failed to pass. House Democrats voted to lower the tax, but were heavily criticized for going against what citizens had already voted for.

While we wait to see which bills, if any, will address the car-tab tax increase, Padden seems to have promised to look into the matter and act accordingly. But the Special Session ends on May 23. While a second Special Session might be called if the House and Senate are unable to agree on a budget, time may simply run out on Sound Transit this legislative session.

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