Guest Editorial: ST3 is a 'no' for me

Guest Editorial: ST3 is a 'no' for me

Guest Editorial: ST3 is a 'no' for me

This November, voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties will be asked to vote on Sound Transit Proposition 1, referred to as ST3.  Details of this proposition are at ST3 would add 62 miles of light rail with stations serving 37 new areas, while growing the system to 116 miles between Tacoma, Seattle, Everett and the Eastside.  

ST3 is a 25-year project that will cost $54 billion, and it will be paid for by increases in property taxes, car tabs and the sales tax for residents of the three counties. 

I oppose ST3, given what the plan includes and the cost of the proposal. Regarding the former, it appears that the plan will not solve the traffic problems in the three-county area. Regarding the latter, the cost is excessive.

In the past, voters in Seattle have made several commitments to transit by increasing our sales tax by 0.1 percent and by funding Move Seattle, which increased our property taxes to make major improvements such as the addition of a Madison Bus Rapid Transit route. We will also continue to pay for Sound Transit’s ST2 construction with a 0.9 percent portion of our sales tax.

ST3 is a massive 25-year project that will further increase our taxes:

  • ST3 would bring annual Sound Transit taxes on the average household to around $740 and commit perhaps $20,000 of their residents’ household money over the next 25 years to Sound Transit.
  • Unlike ST1 and ST2, this measure creates a new property tax and permanent taxing authority for Sound Transit.
  • ST3 would increase property taxes by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for years.
  • ST3 would increase Sales Tax by 0.5 percent (from 0.9 percent to 1.4 percent) for years. The new sales tax would be 10.4 percent in Seattle.
  • ST3 would increase car tab fees by 8 percent for each vehicle owned for years.

Renters will likely face rent increases since apartment owners will have to pass on the property tax increase.

Based on recent news, there are some real Sound Transit credibility issues. 

First, there is a 68 percent cost overrun on existing projects. [Correction: The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom estimated an 86 percent cost overrun on ST1 only. Sound Transit has not released its own tally of cost overruns on ST1, but has acknowledged they could be double estimates made in 1996. – Ed.]

Second, ORCA information was used to push for a “Yes” vote on ST3. [Clarification: Sound Transit admitted in August to improperly giving the email addresses of 173,000 ORCA card holders to Mass Transit Now! as part of a public records request made by the campaign group – Ed.] 

Can voters trust Sound Transit to be prudent and make the right decisions, once it receives a blank check? Elections were a way to hold Sound Transit accountable during its first and second phases, which will take years to complete. If ST3 is approved, then Sound Transit wouldn’t have to ask voters for more support for decades. 

Other concerns include locking the region into a $54 billion spending plan that would take decades to complete. This funding is in addition to the school funding decree from the Washington State Supreme Court. The money for school funding and this money will most likely have to come from property taxes. 

How much more property tax can you afford?  The recent appreciation in home values has already increased our property taxes to a point at which first-time homeowners and seniors can’t afford further increases. As a senior, I am maxed out with the increase in this year’s property taxes. There are two property tax relief programs available to seniors: 

  • A property tax exemption available to senior citizen households with a gross income not exceeding $40,000 with the only allowable deduction being for medical co-pays.  Can one live in Seattle with an income of $40,000 a year? The amount may be adequate in other parts of Washington state, but not in Seattle.  This income test is a problem that our Legislature needs to work on to prevent seniors from losing their homes. 
  • A property tax deferral available to senior citizen households with gross income no greater than $45,000 per year. At 5 percent interest paid when the house is sold, the program is effectively a lien on your property taxes. A lien means that homeowner would be unable to get a home loan since the lien would have to be paid off first. A lien is paid by the proceeds of the property when it is sold.

Seattle has three agencies working the transit needs of its residents: King County Metro, the Seattle Department of Transportation and Sound Transit. I was amazed to find that there is funding for the Madison Bus Rapid Transit in ST3, despite no mention of that when we voted on Move Seattle.

I would love to be able to support ST3 but, as a senior Seattle resident homeowner, I can’t commit $54 billion to a light rail expansion and other improvements that I may not even live to enjoy! Yes, the Broadway and Husky light rail stations have been a success, but we won’t get light rail to Northgate until around 2021. We need a way to plan and fund our transportation needs for an ever growing area. ST3 does not provide solutions for mass transit as well as for vehicular traffic.  

We need to have transparency and cooperation between the three transit agencies in Seattle and they need to start working together to solve problems rather than create them. A good example of this is the location of light rail on Broadway which would have been much better at Broadway between Pike and Pine rather than at John. This Broadway Light Rail location caused numerous problems with the March 2016 Metro restructure. 

A 25-year commitment for $54 billion is an excessive commitment for Seattle residents since they have already taxed themselves for Move Seattle and the maintenance of existing Metro bus service. 

One must ask, why can’t other jurisdictions in the three-county area covered by Sound Transit do their own version of “Move?” Why shouldn’t Sound Transit’s users pay more for the use of light rail? Why is it okay to ask people using the 520 bridge (and the 99 Tunnel) to pay tolls and not ask for light rail users to pay for added service? Why can’t businesses help pay for light rail expansion?

REG NEWBECK is a Madison Park resident.