Still feeling aftershocks of Initiative 976, local politicians on the Sound Transit board say they’ll ask the state Legislature in 2020 for new car-tab tax calculations that reflect “current market value” instead of the existing chart that inflates the value of newer vehicles.
Currrent market value is yet to be defined, but board members unanimously backed Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s motion to request lower vehicle taxes. With billions of dollars at stake, the discussion seemed surprisingly smooth during Thursday’s transit board meeting.
Meanwhile, the board voted 9-1 to award CEO Peter Rogoff an “excellent” rating and a $6,000 bonus, for a 2020 salary of $385,000, citing his growth as a regional leader.
In his no vote, Dammeier spoke emotionally of meeting first-responders to the Dec. 18, 2017, Amtrak Cascades derailment that killed three people and injured dozens on Sound Transit-owned trackway.
The National Transportation Safety Board found Sound Transit executives signed off on a dangerously curved alignment, without ensuring positive train control was in place to stop a speeding train, or that Amtrak’s engineers were properly trained.
Rogoff commissioned an independent investigation this year, and removed the chief safety and quality control executive.
“We’ve got a huge amount of work to do in our culture,” Dammeier said. “We’ve got to assure that our CEO is the safety-accountable executive. There is no way I can support a rating of excellent, with this report before us.”
Board Chairman John Marchione, the retiring Redmond mayor, replied that safety concerns kept Rogoff from a higher “outstanding” rate, and officials discussed the matter extensively in a closed executive session last week.
As for car-tab taxes, Sound Transit continues to collect $110 per $10,000 of vehicle value, since the voter-approved Sound Transit 3 tax measure in 2016. Thousands of drivers, seeing annual car-tab fees triple, became outraged over a valuation schedule from 1999 that inflates the car values up to 40 percent above market value.
Legislators failed to address the valuation schedule in 2017 and 2018. Then last month, Washington voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-976, which sought to slash car-tab fees to $30 statewide.
I-976 failed in the overall Sound Transit taxing district, which includes parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But a majority of Pierce County voters, as well as those in the Everett area and South King County, supported the initiative.
A King County judge blocked I-976 from going into effect for now while a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the measure continues in court.
State and local agencies that collect car-tab fees are girding for cuts this winter, but Sound Transit says bond contracts obligate and allow it to keep collecting its share of taxes.
Board members Thursday discussed using Kelley Blue Book value, but King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci of Bellevue objected that assigning blue-book values to individual vehicles would be too subjective and complex.
In addition, Marchione said Wednesday that in all likelihood, the board would ask for some other Legislature-approved revenue source to make up for relinquishing some car-tab tax.