How did Sound Transit’s $15 billion tax request reach $54 billion? Republicans say they were misled

GOP legislators say they thought they were authorizing $15 billion in taxes when they voted in 2015 to let Sound Transit ask voters to expand transit. How did that become $54 billion? Legislators put no expiration date on the taxes. Now they say they were misled.

Sound Transit, when it sought $15 billion for its mass-transit expansion, misled legislators before they voted in 2015 to give the agency permission to seek tax increases, Republican senators alleged in an investigatory hearing Tuesday.

In July 2015, the state Legislature passed a bipartisan transportation funding bill that allowed Sound Transit to raise the sales tax, car-tab taxes and property taxes to fund an expansion of light-rail and bus service throughout the Puget Sound region.

In the run-up to the Legislature’s vote, news coverage and quotes and documents from Sound Transit referred to “the full $15 billion” that the agency was seeking.

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The Legislature passed the taxing authority, but it placed no restrictions on how long those taxes could be collected.

“The full $15 billion” referred to 16 years of new taxes. Sound Transit, after seeking extensive public input, ended up asking voters for 25 years of new taxes.

That’s why, when voters approved Sound Transit 3’s mass-transit expansions last year, they OK’d not $15 billion in taxes and spending, but $28 billion in new taxes. Combined with existing taxes, bonds and federal funding, the package totaled $54 billion.

Voters clearly knew the size of the package they were voting on. But, one year earlier, when the Legislature gave Sound Transit permission to go to voters, did legislators know what they were authorizing? Did Sound Transit mislead them?

That is the subject of an investigation by the Republican-controlled state Senate Law and Justice Committee, which held a session in the Kent City Council chambers on the issue Tuesday. Another…

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