Residents of South Puget Sound face challenges that require tax dollars to solve. Education, public safety, mental health, homelessness, traffic congestion and parks top the list. The Legislature and our city and county councils are wrestling with budgets to address these pressing needs.
As local elected officials, we disagree with The News Tribune’s endorsement of Sound Transit’s proposition on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Instead of proposing a reasonable plan to help transit reach more people, Sound Transit wants to increase three taxes at once for an eye-popping $54 billion, 25-year spending plan. And shockingly, their own statistics show that it won’t reduce congestion because so few new transit riders are projected to use it, compared with millions more trips being taken by 2040.
Pierce County has voted “no” on the past two Sound Transit ballot measures, but taxes were imposed on us by voters from King County. If Proposition 1 passes, additional sales, MVET (license tabs) and new property taxes are piled on top of current ST1 and ST2 taxes. Remember, ST1 was a “10-year plan” passed in 1996 to build 21 miles of light rail. It is still not finished and is 86 percent over budget — even after the agency “cleaned house” in 2001.
Sound Transit can and will bond all $54 billion, which with interest has an actual taxpayer payoff well over $150 billion. The tax collection for ST3 never ends and never has to come back to the voters. We will spend a fortune on light rail that most people cannot use, and still have dozens of roads and bridges that need major repairs or improvements but are not funded.
As local elected officials, we are doing our best to warn voters not to fall for the slick sales job on behalf of this gigantic meal ticket for special interests. Already more than $3 million has been pumped into the “Yes” campaign, primarily from major contractors and real estate developers who directly benefit from these massive capital projects. It’s a great return on their investment at the expense of taxpayers.
The fact is, last year’s vote by the Legislature to raise gasoline taxes to build state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and improve Interstate 5 capacity around JBLM was a great benefit to all of us in South Sound. So were the earlier decisions to extend HOV lanes into Pierce County and greatly improve state Route 16. These are the kind of cost-effective solutions to traffic congestion that we support.
Proposition 1 would increase the sales tax in Tacoma to 10.1 cents — more than a dime on the dollar. In Lakewood and Steilacoom, the sales tax rate will jump to 9.9 cents. It nearly quadruples your MVET tax to 1.1 percent of every vehicle’s value annually.
And for the first time ever, regional transit will be added to your property tax bill. Sound Transit touts only a small tax increase to you, but with average Pierce County homes and cars, the real cost per household is near $800 to $1,000 or more for Sound Transit every year … forever!
Our region deserves a thoughtful, balanced plan to address congestion, fix crumbling infrastructure, promote economic development, and fund our schools and social services. We join with state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle, who said: “I cannot in good conscience support an inequitable and unstable financing plan.”
Sound Transit’s 20-year track record includes numerous cost overruns, missed deadlines and dropped stations, not to mention spending almost a million dollars on a party to open two new stations this year.
It all adds up to a Pierce County “no” on Proposition 1.
Mike Lonergan is Pierce County’s elected assessor-treasurer, and Ron Lucas is the mayor of Steilacoom.