Pierce County voters’ opposition to Sound Transit 3 has prompted state Sen. Steve O’Ban to propose direct elections of transit-board members.

Share story

A state senator from Pierce County hopes to shake up the Sound Transit board, after a majority of voters there opposed the winning ST3 ballot measure.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, says he’ll file a bill next year to require district elections for 19 board members, who could no longer hold other political office.

“Our country was founded on the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. Surely this should apply to Sound Transit,” O’Ban said in a statement.

Only 44 percent of Pierce County voters backed this fall’s proposition, which won 54 percent overall support due to majorities in King and Snohomish counties.

Yet under state law, Pierce will pay the increased sales, property and car-tab taxes of $326 a year per median household, until the 2040s or beyond.

In return, as part of the overall, three-county package, ST3 would add a light-rail connection from Tacoma to Federal Way and beyond; a streetcar extension from downtown Tacoma to Tacoma Community College; and two Sounder commuter-rail stations to reach Joint Base Lewis-McChord and DuPont.

O’Ban does not object to the bus and rail choices made by Pierce County’s three Sound Transit board members.

But, “if they don’t manage the projects well, or they do exceed $54 billion, you’ve got to have some way of holding them accountable,” he said.

Voters will be much more focused, O’Ban said, if they see “Sound Transit Board” on a ballot, compared with indirectly weighing in through a county executive or mayor’s race.

The existing transit board has 18 members. Three are the county executives, one is the state transportation secretary, and 14 are a variety of local elected officials picked by the county executives. The setup was designed in the 1990s as a “federated board” to overlap with leaders in local transit, land-use and city governments.

In 2007, a committee headed by former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice and telecommunications entrepreneur John Stanton suggested an elected nine-member super-board to govern all roads and transit.

The closest thing now to a direct race — besides the agency’s tax propositions — is to challenge an incumbent county executive. In Democrat-dominated King County, which holds 10 board seats, that’s a far-fetched scenario.

Despite her constituents’ vote on ST3, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, in postelection speech, talked up the measure:

“We have thousands of happy riders in Pierce County who take advantage of Sounder and ST Express [bus] service every day,” she said. “The passage of this measure will make room for them to reach their jobs. When people leave their cars at home and take trains or buses, it helps unclog the freeways, to make it easier for other users like moving freight.”

McCarthy was just elected state auditor, and will be leaving the board soon.