State GOP lawmaker eyes cheaper car tabs, Sound Transit reform

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State GOP lawmaker eyes cheaper car tabs, Sound Transit reform

 Hanna Scott, My Northwest

My Northwest 

The 2019 legislative session gets underway in just over a week, and one Republican state Senator is putting a target on Sound Transit, and ST3, the $54 billion light rail expansion approved by voters.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have tried to pass some type of relief from high car tabs that came with ST3 in the last two sessions to no avail.

Republican state Senator Steve O’Ban — a longtime critic of Sound Transit — is again introducing a car tab relief bill, the most aggressive among previous proposals, that would change the vehicle valuation system to Kelly Blue Book, slash the ST3 tax by more than half, and provide taxpayers a refund for the difference in what they’ve already paid.

He’s also again working on a Sound Transit accountability and reform proposal, that would require the board be directly elected rather than appointed.

“It’s been so frustrating what we’ve seen for all the money that’s been authorized to Sound Transit, and I don’t expect them to be any more accountable and frugal than we’ve seen over the last 25 years. So my chief bill would require that each board member be directly elected by the people,” O’Ban said.

He thinks there’s a better shot this time around.

“I believe that I’ll have Democratic support for this for the first time,” he added.

O’Ban also has a bill that would require a public vote to continue ST3 work if Sound Transit goes over-budget.

“This bill would require them, if they’re believe they’re not going to be able to fund the projects they’ve promised with that $54 billion they have to come back (and) explain why and get additional authorization,” O’Ban explained.

While those are all bills he’s proposed in the past, he also has new legislation targeting the ST3 project that would create a path for counties in the taxing district to opt out.

“This bill would allow the people through the initiative process to pull that county out of ST3 so they wouldn’t have to keep paying those monies. They would only finish paying for those projects that were begun in their county and for the operation of those projects. But when it comes to light rail, which is the subject of the ST3 and the $54 billion, if people had the power, I know Pierce County would exercise that right and they would pull out if given the chance, and so I want to give the people through the initiative process that right.”

Sound Transit says any reduction in car tabs or other ST3 funding would jeopardize ST3 projects.

O’Ban realizes some of these — which have failed in the past even with a Republican-controlled Senate — are long shots given the makeup of the incoming Legislature, and may not even get a hearing.

However, he noted it’s vital to keep important issues you’re pushing in the forefront, because you never know when you’ll be able to change a mind or garner some new support, as he believes he’s done with the proposal to have an elected Sound Transit Board. O’Ban believes that proposal has the best shot of passing in the upcoming session.