Pierce County voters in 2016 voted by 55 percent in opposition to the $54 billion ST3 transit and light rail tax package. In November, county voters favored the $30 car tab Initiative 976 by almost 66 percent. Now, Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-28) has introduced SB 6108 calling for a “Trexit” for Pierce County from ST3.
“The legislature, I think it ignores the implications of that initiative at its policy-making… budgeting and political peril,” O’Ban told colleagues at a Feb. 4 public hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee. “I don’t think there’s any other way to interpret this.”
Under SB 6108, all Sound Transit taxes passed after January 2015 would be nullified in Pierce County. The transit agency would have to nullify bond contracts through a provision known as defeasance, if necessary and if the provision is contained in the contracts. Any taxes approved after 2015 already collected within Pierce County can only be used to issue taxpayer refunds or for defeasance.
O’Ban has proposed similar legislation in recent sessions. SB 5854 introduced in 2017 would have allowed voters or local governments to nullify Sound Transit property taxes enacted since July 2015. The bill never received a public hearing in the Transportation Committee. O’Ban cosponsored a similar bill that year that would have allowed those entities to repeal any of the Sound Transit taxes passed after July 2015.
Major ST3 projects planned in Pierce County include a light rail line from the Federal Way Transit Center to the Tacoma Dome transit station which the agency expects to complete in 2030. Another light rail project extends the existing Tacoma Link from downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Community College; that project is estimated to be finished in 2039.
However, O’Ban said the county’s voters “do not see the benefit of light rail in Pierce County, and I think if Sound Transit thinks otherwise, they’re not reading the same outcomes I am.”
Pierce County Planning Commissioner Jon Higley told the committee: “it’s a bit frustrating to have my pocket picked to pay for something I’ll never benefit from. The people have spoken. I ask you to honor the people’s voice who clearly understood what the initiative was about. I ask you to remember you work for us – not the other way.”
However, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said the bill would “force the Sound Transit Board to abandon its original charge of advancing the mobility needs of the entire region” and create a separate class of service for King and Snohomish counties and another for Pierce County.
“We don’t believe that…is how we best advance the region’s economy,” he added.
No further action is yet scheduled for SB 6108.