City Sound Transit Cost Only “Debated” by Usual Suspects
posted by September 25 at 12:46 PMon
Today’s P-I has a piece by Larry Lange about the “debate” over how much Sound Transit’s light rail expansion proposal really costs. The “debate” in question: Whether the plan costs $17.8 billion, as Sound Transit says, or $107 billion, as longtime light-rail opponents Jim MacIsaac and John Niles (really, really longtime opponents) say.
This debate is only a “debate” if you assume the following premises: 1) Sound Transit is lying and plans to violate a resolution its board passed to stop collecting the additional half-percent of sales tax in 2038; and 2) Seattle households are actually a whole lot richer (and spend a whole lot more money) than the US Census and city and state demographers say they are.
On the first point: Lange writes, “Transportation planner and Sound Transit critic Jim MacIsaac estimates approval of the measure would authorize collection of more than $107.3 billion over 45 years…”
There are two reasons why this “estimate” is wrong. First, it includes taxes from Sound Transit’s Phase 1—taxes the voters passed more than ten years ago, taxes that have nothing to do with the proposal on the ballot this November. Second, as mentioned above, it assumes Sound Transit will continue collecting the taxes well into the 2050s and beyond. That would require Sound Transit to build a third phase of light rail—Sound Transit 3—without getting authority from the voters, and to defy a board resolution mandating that the agency will discontinue the tax once the new lines are paid off around 2038.
On the second point: If the “typical household,” whatever that means, actually spent $284 on a half-percent sales tax increase, that would mean that a typical household in the Sound Transit taxing area spends nearly $57,000 a year on goods subject to sales tax—which excludes food, utilities, and rent. Considering that the median household income in the Sound Transit taxing area is only around $64,000, that’s a pretty hefty chunk to be blowing on clothes, iPods, and lattes.
A side note on that point: Sound Transit didn’t, as Lange reports, “assume a total of 1.3 million households throughout the three counties” and “divide the tax bill by more housholds” to get a lower result. They used those 1.3 million to arrive at a median—the middle point between the highest and the lowest-income households in the group. A median, unlike a mean, doesn’t require “dividing by” anything—and it doesn’t depend on how many households there are. For purposes of defining a “typical” household, it’s also more accurate than just dividing total income by the total number of households in an area—the method MacIsaac acknowledged he used to figure out how much a “typical” household would be spending. (The Mass Transit Now campaign has requested a correction).
Finally, as I noted here (and as Lange, oddly, did not report, despite reporting on the initial court challenge) a lawsuit seeking to change the Sound Transit ballot title to include the $107 billion figure was dismissed with prejudice by King County Superior Court judge John Erlick, who said, “There is neither a factual nor a legal basis for [Knedlik’s] proposed redrafting of the ballot title” or explanatory statement in the voters’ guide.
Knedlik, like Niles and MacIsaac, has a long history as a light-rail antagonist. In addition to being a perennial candidate and former attorney (he was disbarred for filing too many frivolous lawsuits), Knedlik sued Sound Transit (and lost) once before—in 2004, when he demanded a refund on taxpayers’ money and a rollback of Sound Transit taxes.