We want more extensive public transit, but should Big Business get a free ride while the poor pay more? Of course not. Shockingly, that’s exactly what the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure would do. ST3 would shovel unfair, regressive taxes onto the people while several large corporations reap the benefits.
Example: Sound Transit 3 would increase Sales Taxes on the general public to build a new light rail extension that benefits Microsoft Corp headquarters in Redmond. (This is the same Microsoft that already uses off-shore accounts to avoid other taxes.) (Existing Sound Transit 2 taxes are already building a light rail TO Microsoft headquarters.)
The politicians deciding who pays — including Northeast Seattle’s Councilmember Rob Johnson (who sits on the Sound Transit board) — let us down. While they call themselves “progressives,” their proposal for more Sales Tax is regressive. Their proposal for more Property Tax means renters and homeowners will struggle to pay several other local levies, including the nearly $1 billion “transportation” levy enacted just months ago (109,000 votes in favor; 77,000 votes against).
The only way to make the politicians listen is to put our foot down. REJECT AND RE-DO SOUND TRANSIT 3: MAKE CORPORATIONS PAY FAIR SHARE.
Reckless funding proposals like ST3 jeopardize sensible and fair levies like those for education and affordable housing. Therefore, we should demand that elected officials fix ST3 and put a better version on the ballot in early 2017. Here are some ideas to make it better:
- Make Biggest Businesses Pay Biggest Share (Portland, OR and New York City are just two examples where employers help to fund transit.)
- Require Microsoft to pay for light rail to Redmond.
- Eliminate regressive tax increases so that poor do not pay more.
- Divide Sound Transit 3 into TWO Pieces to provide time to enact a State Income Tax (e.g. on non-retirement investment income).
- Provide More Regional Buses (faster than waiting for light rail construction).
- Increase fares for well-to-do transit riders so that they pay more of the actual cost (lower-income riders would continue to get Orca Lift discount cards.)
- Investigate Sound Transit’s questionable use of online surveys and slick campaign-like mailers that advocate for ST3.
UPDATE: Three days after we distributed our 4toExplore.org newsletter, the Seattle Times also urged voters to put the brakes on Sound Transit 3. The Seattle Times articulated additional reasons to hold off. For their editorial, CLICK HERE.
Sound Transit is damaging trust by misleading the public about the costs. Their website states, “Under collection of the full authorized revenues the estimated cost to a typical adult living in the Sound Transit District would be approximately $200 more annually.” But, the Seattle Times points out that it’s actually $400 per year: “An average household would pay $400 in yearly property, sales and car-tax increases if voters in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties say yes in November…The estimated household average of $400 more per year is close to double what residents now pay for Sound Transit measures approved by voters in 1996 and 2008.”
- Property Tax: an additional $125 per year for a house worth $500,000. (This is 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.)
- Sales Tax: an additional 0.5%, on top of the 0.9% already collected for a total of 1.4%.
- Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET): an additional 0.8% of vehicle value, on top of the 0.3% already collected for Sound Transit.
We have no problem with the MVET. But a Sales Tax is regressive (the poor pay more). For an article by the “FYI Guy” on regressive taxes, CLICK HERE. In addition, property taxes have been increasing exponentially, creating additional pressure on important future local levies for affordable housing, public education, etc.
What about the cost of the tickets? According to Sound Transit, “ticket sales will cover up to an estimated 40 percent of light rail operations costs and 20 percent of bus operations costs.” Therefore, Sound Transit should consider charging higher income riders higher fares to cover more of the actual cost of service (user fee) rather than making all low income families pay more with regressive sales taxes.
Unfortunately, Seattle’s City Council in May 2016 passed Resolution 31668 , stating that they “endorse Sound Transit’s proposed mix of revenue options” because “Sound Transit has been granted limited options for funding these needs, which will only become more expensive over time.” But the State’s authorizing legislation SB 5987 (see Section 318) actually states that they “should also seek other funds, including federal, state, local, and private sector assistance.” Criteria for the funding sources should include “equity”. And the very first option listed is an “Employer Tax” — which is ignored by ST3. Why not learn from Portland, Oregon (TriMet) which charges an Employer Tax? Moreover, the Legislature exists to legislate; therefore, they could easily enact other options for Sound Transit — certainly the State’s authorization of a $15 billion cap did not stop Sound Transit from doing something different: proposing over $50 billion.
For two sides of the debate from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. They both make compelling arguments and they both exaggerate. They also both miss the point: we need to expand transit, but the way it is funded needs to be re-tooled.
Corporations benefiting from new infrastructure should pay their fair share so that we do not burden lower income families with more regressive taxes. Vote NO on ST3 and demand immediate revisions to the funding sources so that we have transit that is truly fair and progressive.