City Sound Transit: Sued Again!
posted by September 9 at 16:00 PMon
Will Knedlik, an attorney disbarred for filing frivolous lawsuits and a longtime opponent of Sound Transit, is suing the light-rail agency, alleging that it misrepresented the true cost of November’s light rail proposal in its ballot title and the explanatory statement in voter guides; and that the Sound Transit board does not have the authority to put a light-rail expansion measure on the ballot.
Knedlik’s lawsuit is confusingly worded even by the standards of legalese, but what it boils down to is this: 1) Because voters declined to pass last year’s roads and transit ballot measure, which included 50 new miles of light rail, Sound Transit does not have the authority to put a light-rail measure on the ballot again. And 2) Even if Sound Transit did have the authority to put light rail to the voters, the agency should use Knedlik’s own figure, derived from “preparation of calculations based on Interested Party SOUND TRANSIT’s financial documents, materials, and worksheet,” of $107.5 billion in its ballot title and voter guide explanation.
The first point makes no sense because this year’s proposal isn’t the same ballot measure as the one that was proposed last year, so the legislative ban on putting the same measure on the ballot twice doesn’t apply.
The second claim also doesn’t pan out. It’s based on the same dubious math that led opponents of last year’s measure to claim it would cost $157 billion once all the costs were factored in. The $100 million figure assumes that the initial sales tax voters passed to pay for the first phase of light rail will continue indefinitely; that the sales-tax increase on the ballot in November will be collected for at least 50 years (the agency has adopted a rule requiring it to roll back the tax as soon as the capital costs for the expansion are paid off, estimated to happen in 2023); and that Sound Transit will keep collecting taxes for Sound Transit 3, a scenario that voters won’t even consider for many years, and only if Sound Transit 2 is passed in November.
This slide, part of a Sound Transit presentation on the agency’s proposed financial plan for rail expansion, illustrates why Knedlik is wrong. The dark blue portion is Sound Transit 1—the rail line that’s currently under construction and due to open in 2009. That section, along with the cost of operating and maintaining the system (in yellow) goes up slightly every year because of inflation. The light blue layer is the capital costs for Sound Transit 2; those taper off in 2023, after which all revenues that aren’t needed to pay for operations will go into a “rollback fund.” Once that fund includes enough money to pay off the bonds on construction, sometime between 2036 and 2038, the tax from Sound Transit 2 will be rolled back completely—as reflected in the steep decline in the pink section from several billion dollars to zero. The red section, finally, represents the potential taxes that won’t be spent because of the tax rollback requirement—taxes that are included in Knedlik’s $100 billion estimate.
Knedlik’s case will be heard in King County Superior Court tomorrow.