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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sound Transit: Sued Again!

posted by on September 9 at 16:00 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments



Foiled again...

Posted by michael strangeways | September 9, 2008 4:20 PM

What a clown shoe. I hope he gets tossed out on his ass with a bill for ST's legal fees taped to his back.

Posted by Greg | September 9, 2008 4:26 PM

I'm one to criticze the funny math of transit supporters and all, but Knedlik's crazy. $100 billion could build comprehensive rail transit from Bellingham to Olympia and the Sound to North Bend.

We're talking in reality about a system that's estimated to cost $10-15 billion at most to expand throughout King County. I can expect overruns of a few billion to that sort of figure, but how could they possibly get to $100 billion?

Posted by Gomez | September 9, 2008 4:32 PM

knedlik is a pretty funny name.

Posted by max solomon | September 9, 2008 4:41 PM

Hey, ECB, your website has expired. You may want to renew.

Posted by Ummmmm | September 9, 2008 4:48 PM

a million zillion dollars??!?

WOAH maybe we should re-think this thing!


Posted by Keo | September 9, 2008 4:54 PM

Nice reality check by Gomez @3.

What's odd about the resident light rail foes is that they're never confident enough arguing the facts. Instead they have to take the facts and distort them into the realm of the ridiculous.

If you think $10 billion or so is too much to spend on a mass transit system, then just say so. You'd actually have a better case than trying to add an extra zero.

Posted by cressona | September 9, 2008 5:32 PM

Although his lawsuit is idiotic, I think his larger point about taxes that don't end is legitimate and merits discussion. At what point do you roll back the taxes you originally raised instead of finding more ways to spend the money?(See the hotel motel tax originally intended to pay off the Kingdome debt as an example and brought up in Slog a few months ago) While Sound Transit states that the taxes would be rolled back eventually if ST2 doesnt pass( although I sincerly hope it does pass), a government official/leader will find a way to spend the money somehow or find a use for it.

Name one tax or fee that's ever been rolled back or reduced without a voter initiative or citizens voting no on a levy(thus allowing it to expire).

Posted by Brian in Seattle | September 9, 2008 5:59 PM

We wrote about how stupid the $107 billion number is at STB (, assuming 2 million voters.

Prop 1 would incur a 0.5% sales tax increase. Using some fourth grade math, we can see that to spend $60,000 in taxes Eyman’s average family would have to spend $12,000,000 on taxable items.

Posted by Andrew | September 9, 2008 6:28 PM

The arithmetic to get to $60,400 average per household in Sound Transit tax collections is posted in a year-by-year spreadsheet at .

In the historical record to date, Sound Transit has not ever rolled back its taxes. The new Prop 1 on the November ballot is to gain approval for doubling Sound Transit's taxes.

Posted by John Niles | September 10, 2008 9:19 PM

All those billions in gas taxes approved by the legislature since 2003 included ZERO sunset clause. Yet our intrepid local media - and Kemper Freeman minions like Will Knedlik and John Niles - never offered a peep of complaint.

Knedlik is famous for losing lots and lots of lawsuits, including a recent one which concluded with Knedlik losing his $4 million Kirkland waterfront home. Too bad all the frivolous and ridiculous anti-rail lawsuits Knedlik has filed against ST didn't backfire in a similar manner.

Posted by Jeremy | September 10, 2008 9:20 PM

Hey John...

So, uh, how do you get to $60,000 with .5% of sales taxes? Answer that or STOP LYING.

Posted by Ben Schiendelman | September 10, 2008 9:42 PM

And John Niles is famous for his Intelligently Designed Discovery Institute distortions and lies. Niles pretends support for a bus-only transit system, but his right wing think tank money machine prevents Niles from ever proposing - or suuporting - any kind of viable. BRT plan.

And then there was John Niles' long-time cheerleading for monorail.

These anti-rail freeway boosters are so easy to see through...yet the apologists at the Seattle Times refuse to touch Kemper's people with even a slightly critical analysis of their endless jihad against rail transit. Indeed, the Times and PI won't even identify John Niles' right wing sugar-daddies, including the Washington Policy Center.

John Niles' efforts to put a toll booth on every freeway (to force people on to slow, unrelievle buses... and keep the roads free of non-rich drivers) is under attack via yet another Tim Eyman initiative.

But don't expect Niles or any of anti-toll Kemper's other goons to expend any energy criticizing Eyman. No problem I-985 would potentially wipe-out Niles' HOV + BRT dreams. The BRT part is just an afterthought. It's making cars move on big freeways that keeps John Niles energized.

Posted by Jeremy | September 10, 2008 9:48 PM

Ben: Niles doesn't lie so much as he distorts - or, simply generates his junk science by totally ignoring basic realities.

Come to think of it, John Niles has found a way to stoop BELOW lying.

Now, that's something to be proud of.

It's amazing how ideology and pet personal grudges can turn an educated, mature man into a petty, Rovian liar-for-hire.

Posted by Jeremy | September 10, 2008 9:55 PM

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