Home / General / Incompetence or Malevolence? (Washington State Republican Party edition)

Incompetence or Malevolence? (Washington State Republican Party edition)


The Seattle Subway collective has a good headline, but I wonder whether incompetence is the most likely explanation.


1. As part of legislative horse-trading last year, Republicans provided votes to pass a law to authorize Sound Transit to take to the voters a new package to extend the current light rail system and various other mass transit projects, and taxes to pay for them. The agency’s legislative ask included a mix of income sources other than the highly unpopular motor vehicle exise tax, or MVET–a type of tax that was the subject of a devastating and successful tax rebellion almost 20 years ago the state budgets have still not fully recovered from. Republican legislators make them use the MVET.

2. Sound Transit uses the legislative authority to put together a sizeable package, funded in party by the authorized MVET. It passes easily, despite the unpopular tax.

3. The depreciation schedule used to determine the MVET (and currently in use for a smaller MVET from the first ST package) differs from blue book value, exaggerating the value of late-model cars while underestimating the value of older cars. 2-10 year old cars are taxed at a value anywhere from 20-50% greater than Kelly Blue Book. Again, this is what the legislation authorized, and how the existing MVET has been collected for a decade.

4. With a major assist from the consistently anti-transit Seattle Times, Republican opponents of public transit attempt to whip up a tax rebellion about the MVET, claiming Sound Transit misled voters about the nature of the taxes. (ST’s website, throughout the campaign, featured an ST III tax calculator, which accurately included the MVET at the legislatively approved depreciation schedule. To carry the charade forward, phony show-trial “hearings” will now be held about how Sound Transit misled voters. This accompanies legislation that looks likely to pass that would “fix” the MVET without replacing the lost funds, putting post-2002 ST’s exemplary record of finishing projects on time at risk. (Democrats control the House, but several Democrats from parts of the ST taxing region that didn’t support the package* are freaked out by the tax rebellion, and are willing to play the compromise role between “full-on assault on Sound Transit” and “respect the clear will of the voters.”)

Forcing ST to use an unpopular tax provides two strategic benefits to the anti-transit Republicans: it makes the package less popular to the voters, but if that doesn’t work, it’s still there to launch a cynical attack on the government agency with (and they know they’ll have the full support of the region’s major newspaper for this project.)

* Also Bob Hasegawa, who represents a transit-reliant, strongly STIII-supporting district in South Seattle. Bob Hasegawa is running for Mayor of Seattle. There are now a number of promising candidates for Mayor. Please don’t vote for Bob Hasegawa.

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