The Sept. 26 ST3 investigatory work session with the Law and Justice Committee Image: Lizz Giordano

A Senate committee questioned several Sound Transit employees, a law professor and anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman during the first of two “investigatory work sessions” looking into Sound Transit’s conduct leading up to the vote on Sound Transit 3.

Union members packed Kent’s City Council chambers, listening to testimony before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on whether the bill language for ST3 was unconstitutionally drafted and if Sound Transit misled the legislature on the size of the final ST3 package.

State Senators Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, and Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, requested the work sessions after accusing Sound Transit of deceiving legislators and the public. Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, issued a statement Tuesday, calling the assertions “baseless.”

Trying to sum up the first issue, Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill that authorized the ST3 taxes, SB 5987, adopted a motor vehicle excise tax schedule that had been repealed back in 1996, rather than setting a new schedule.

David DeWolf, Professor of Law at Gonzaga University, told the committee he found SB 5987 to be noncompliant with the state code because it “didn’t set forth in full what the existing statute is that would be affected and how it would be affected.”

“The only way you could figure out what the new rule would be would be to hunt down the provision 82.44 (RCW), which isn’t even cited to the specific section, and find it in the older, now repealed statutes,” DeWolf said.

Disagreeing with DeWolf about the lack of clarity in the bill, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Capitol Hill, pointed to the bill report, which he said most legislators would be more likely to read, rather than the text of the bill. The report states that “the depreciation schedule remains the same as the MVET schedule in effect for the existing MVET until the bonds are repaid.”

And both Pedersen and Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle contend the legislature did know what it was voting on recalling for the committee that in 2015, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, offered an amendment to SB 5987 specifically addressing the MVET schedule. The amendment, which did not pass, called for ST3 to use the updated 2015 MVET schedule.

Investigating how the ST3 package grew from $15 billion of new tax revenue to $28 billion, the committee heard testimony from Sound Transit Spokesperson Geoff Patrick, Director of Government and Community Relations Ann McNeil, and attorney Desmond Brown, along with Eyman.

Sound Transit says the initial $15 billion figure represented just the amount of new tax revenue that could be generated over 15 years. The agency’s board expanded the ST3 package to 25 years after hearing from residents that a more ambitious transit packaged was desired.

O’Ban cited an April 2017 News Tribune article where Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, was quoted: “Clibborn, the House Transportation Committee chairwoman, said she’s not sure lawmakers would have signed off on Sound Transit 3 if they had known how big the tax proposal would become.

“I think if you had said, ‘We’re going to bond this and we’re going to ask for $54 billion,’ it would not have gone anywhere,” Clibborn said. “Nobody was going to do that. … Everybody was having this $15 billion in front of them.””

“Isn’t it fair to say,” O’Ban asked McNeil, “that Sound Transit really failed to accurately and clearly explain the scope of the taxing authority they were seeking from the legislature, if they couldn’t even clearly and accurately explain this to Judy Clibborn?”

“We made every attempt to articulate the request the (Sound Transit) board was making to the Legislature,” she replied.

An investigation by the Washington Public Disclosure Commission concluded, “No evidence was found that members of Sound Transit staff or its contracted lobbyists deceived or attempted to deceive any legislator regarding any aspect of Sound Transit 3.”

In the audience in support of ST3 was Sean Bagsby, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46. He called the attacks on ST3 unnecessary.

“I voted for (ST3), and I was well aware there was going to be an increase in my vehicle’s tabs,” said Bagsby. “For me, it’s more about population. Population will never decrease, you have to move people around.”

“Transit’s never free,” he added. “If you want to do it, you are going to have to pay for it, it’s never going to be free. It’s never going to be easy. But the sooner you do it, the better it is for everybody.”

Bagsby said at least nine different unions were represented in the audience.

Sound Transit released a memo and corresponding chronology of events in response to the claims made by O’Ban and Rossi.

“At Sound Transit, we are working hard every day to deliver the transit alternatives approved by voters in 2008 and 2016,” Rogoff said in a press release Tuesday. “To be successful in these endeavors, we need strong partnerships with federal, state and local governments. Baseless assertions do not move our region forward.”

The committee’s second work session is scheduled for 1pm on October 5 at the City of Everett’s Community Resource Center (3900 Broadway Avenue) in the School Board Room. The committee plans to discuss the last matter O’Ban and Rossi requested examined: whether Sound Transit inappropriately participated in Proposition 1 in 2016.

31 Replies to “Senate Committee Grills Sound Transit”

  1. Thank you, Mr. Bagsby, IBEW, and the other unions in attendance. You represent working class Washington well.

      1. Andy, I, personally, am not union. But, I strongly support the voice that unions bring to the working class and find it valuable. I believe that there are other organizations and voices that represent the working class quite well, but wanted to thank the four unions that participated for stepping up to the plate. That’s all.

  2. Who’s going to decide this case? The Legislature? If verdict is “guilty” on every single charge, how close is the opposition to enough votes to do anything about it? How much time will it take to have any effect on ST-3 at all? . And specifically, how many elections?

    And given the wealth of the Central Puget Sound area as opposed to the districts ST opponents represent, what are we ready to do about the worst possible outcome? Starting with implementing the cuts which will give our opponents’ constituents exactly what their reps are demanding?

    On the other hand, how many of our measures that really do aggravate constituents needlessly for the convenience of our bureaucracy can Sound Transit do away with? The $124 fine for wrong order of “taps” assessed to a pass-holder is my own best example, which hardly anybody else cares about. Never personally been fined, only warned.

    And using paper day passes, in same plastic envelope as my card, have found a way to handle. But mentality behind the measure doubtless generates outcomes our enemies can also use, and not completely unjustly. Word to the wise, who for that very reason should know better.

    Mark Dublin

    1. There’s not an actual case because the Senate has zero power. This is just an investigatory hearing. According to the Seattle Times article on this: “The Legislature doesn’t have the power to criminally charge anyone as a result of the investigation, but it could potentially hand its findings to the state attorney general or another prosecutor for further investigation, or use its conclusions to influence future legislation.”

      If they actually found clear evidence (an e-mail within Sound Transit saying “Let’s deceive the legislature so that we all get more money”) of something illegal, then it would need to be referred for prosecution and probably most legislators would agree. But that’s primarily due to public pressure, not because something like that would be required to happen.

  3. This is the conservative self fulfilling prophecy. Because of their fixation with the absolute size of government, they don’t have time to make sure the government we do have is running effectively and efficiently. ST has a lot to criticize. Their choices about escalator placement and purchasing is terrible. They have serious issues integrating with buses. Maybe if our legislators grilled ST on actual issues, ST would improve. Instead we must waste their time because they are too big.

    Not that liberals can’t have a similar problem from the other side. Sometimes throwing more money at a problem isn’t the solution. Like if San Diego (I recently moved there) made building housing easier (radically easier), they might not have to spend so much money mitigating hepatitis A spread from homeless encampments. But this is not that. Quality transit infrastructure is expensive and our region needs it.

    Hopefully the Republicans will be satisfied with just a little harassment, and not actually harm ST

    1. “ST has a lot to criticize. Their choices about escalator placement and purchasing is terrible. They have serious issues integrating with buses. Maybe if our legislators grilled ST on actual issues, ST would improve. Instead we must waste their time because they are too big.”

      To be honest, I think tough love is needed for ST.

      The escalators, the leaking of thousands of e-mails to a PAC in all but name, the alleged bus integration issues, the ability of folks to get from the light rail to the streetcar, and the delays in building out ST2 & ST3 are all good reasons for tough love, hearings and elected boards.

      1. Remember, Joe, that the people bothering Sound Transit right now were all elected to positions one of whose functions is to do exactly what they are now doing to Sound Transit. If they, without any oversight, feel like it,

        Just out of curiosity, though. Would an elected board as you conceive of it be individually required to have any experience with transit at all? Because if not, I can easily see a series of decisions that are democratically decided, intelligent, compassionate and wrong.


  4. This sort of jerkness is exactly why King County should upzone to accommodate more young people. Make the Republican party meaningless in Washington as it has become in California and Oregon.

    1. Maybe it’s because I watched real Republicans form Metro Transit and start the Tunnel that was first root of LINK. But I think it could be more likely people like this, whose battle flag will be a real balance sheet, will, like the Union artillery commander at Chancellorsville promised, make the Slavers think Hell’s not a half mile off. Which is a long way to flee if your troops, as the present enemy really deserves, are stuck in traffic.


      1. Mark, yes, the Republicans used to be the party which drove progress in America. They’ve always been partial to Capitalism and laissez faire but in their first century they were reliable supporters of Civil Rights, environmental protection, and clean government.

        But when Lyndon signed the Civil Rights Acts he touched off a major party realignment. The white southerners who were Yaller Dog Democrats could not abide sharing their party with “Nigras”, so off they went trailing pied-piper Strom Thurmond into the arms of the cynical Business Republicans.

        Whom they have now munched down on for all three meals lo these many years.

  5. These people. Is it really that hard to understand the symbiotic relationship between time and money? Do they not have basic functional knowledge of how levies, taxes and public financing work? Do they not have staff? Do they not consume media? Or do basic research? Is it Sound Transit’s job to do ALL of their work for them?

    I mean, really. How hard is it to understand that the same “full” tax rates generate different amounts of revenue over different time periods ($15 billion in 15 years, $27 billion in 25 years)? And how can they not know what existing state law says about the ST Board’s discretion to decide what to propose to voters? This hearing is literally an advertisement for how bad they are at their jobs.

    1. Most likely it’s politics. People want transit and low car tabs, and some people just want low car tabs (the southeast Pierce refuseniks and the ones Eyman is courting). Conservative politicians are telling them they can have their cake and eat it too by slashing MVET, and that ST is doing an illegal misleading money grab that the legislature never consented to. The point is not whether it’s true or will hold up in court, but to convince their constituents that it’s true so that they’ll vote for said legislators. And if they succeed in slashing ST3 or dismantling Sound Transit, then that’s a side benefit.

    2. Also, if the legislature wanted to cap the authorization to a 15-year program at $15 billion, it could have easily put that in the legislation. It did not do that in ST 1, 2, or 3 because it wanted to leave flexibility for the scope and contingencies of the programs. The monorail initiative listed the exact streets and station locations and mode even though the engineering studies and community input hadn’t been done yet and the financing plan was unsound, and that left the monorail project with no flexibility when further evidence and judgment suggested a different course. ST avoided painting itself into a corner like that, and the ST1 2, and 3 legislations also did. The legislature knew that more projects could be added and that ST 4 and 5 votes could later be had on the same tax authority but they did nothing to stop it, and now they’re complaining that ST did something the legislature allowed.

      1. Remember that the Legislature that passed the original Sound Transit enabling legislation is not the same “legislature” that sits in Olympia today. The Republicans have grown less generous and more intransigent in the decades since it passage.

  6. Frankly I think Pedersen’s argument is rather weak sauce. It’s the legislative text that matters and he knows that. This issue could end up in Washington’s Supreme Court and the case essentially comes down to the article II, section 37 provision.

    1. LOL. Even O’Ban and Rossi know this argument doesn’t hold up. If they believed there was a realistic legal jeopardy, they’d be in Court and not posturing at a hearing in Kent.

      1. Lol. The incompetence of State Senators Rossi and O’Ban is not surprising but also has no weight on the legitimacy of the legal claim being made.

    2. In that case, it is not Sound Transit being investigated, but the Legislature investigating its own draftsmanship.

      BTW, if the bill is found unconstitutional, does that mean all the highway spending in that bill has to go back to the lege for re-approval? Oh, and that fast ferry from Bremerton might have to get mothballed.

      The Lege could also legislatively cure the bill, and not require another vote of the people, to honor the fact the election has already been held (unlike with the highway spending).

  7. This is a complicated issue. its an expensive long-term project, with high taxes, complicated by the fact the area doing the most squawking is the leased served percentage wise. Large swaths of the county go unserved with an answer of use x park and ride which can be up to an hours travel away just to get to the P&R, not including the rest of the commute by transit. These areas that are pretty much disconnected from any kind of transit at all, yet still pay the taxes. Sound Transit is not to blame, but they are not innocent either in all this. Had they provided service away from TDS on core corridors outside of fife and the Puyallup valley I think these tempers would have been far more muted and this may not have been so much of an issue.

  8. From the time I first came to Seattle, in late 1974, Tacoma has always puzzled me. It reminds me of a really bad French Sci-Fi movie called “Alphaville”.

    Where a scientist in a white lab coat was talking pompously as if the whole spotlessly clean and completely unpopulated place was really in another dimension. Begging the question of “Where did everybody go that used to be in Tacoma?”

    Later on, found out that while citizens carried on a cheerful office life in daylight, they were all gone by sunset. Where did they go? Still not completely sure, but have some unflattering ideas. As to why people would abandon such a modern town and some beautiful neighborhoods with views of Mt. Rainier.

    To live in sprawl that would make Texas look like a streetcar-perfect place in Austria. What happened and, so transit can crawl back from extinction in Pierce County- what can we Earthlings do to rescue it?


    1. > what can we Earthlings do to rescue it?

      Simple, ST should have bought the BNSF railway between Tacoma and Seattle, and helped BNSF and UP double track the UP line for freight, leaving the BNSF line interference free for high speed rail transit that would have connected Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila with Seattle – potentially 30 minutes end to end. Some say the cost of extending Link from the Airport to Tacoma would have covered this and delivered something the Link extension wont ever achieve – giving commuters an alternative to the clogged freeways (I5 & SR167). This would also have alleviated the pressure on housing prices in and around Seattle by making the south Puget Sound/Tacoma easily commutable.

      As for Tacoma it self, a lot of people seem to rubbish the city, as a new comer to this area, sure Tacoma has some sketchy areas, but the town town area looks pretty smart, better than downtown Seattle in its current state..

      Link should have been constructed in a loop with an interconnection with Sounder at Tukwila, one half a direct link between downtown and the airport, and other half via Renton/South Center mall, up the valley perhaps along its current path back to the city. With that a trip between the airport from downtown would be a 15 minute trip!

      That is the world class transit system that a tech leading world class city should have. Sound Transit in that respect has completely failed the city and the tax payers in Puget Sound with a slow disjoined system of non-coperative transit agencies.

    2. “ST should have bought the BNSF railway between Tacoma and Seattle”

      ST doesn’t have that kind of money. The state should really be buying the entire BNSF track in Washington State, but it has not seen fit to do so, it’s more concerned about new exurban freeways.

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