Downtown Redmond Link groundbreaking
Dignitaries and civic leaders celebrate the beginning of construction on Sound Transit's Downtown Redmond Link extension (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

Dis­graced ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman may have thought when he put togeth­er Ini­tia­tive 976 that he had designed a mis­sile that would effec­tive­ly blow up Sound Tran­sit’s vot­er approved Phase III sys­tem expan­sion, but Sound Tran­sit’s gen­er­al coun­sel has con­clud­ed that the ini­tia­tive won’t have any adverse affect on the agen­cy’s finances because it does­n’t actu­al­ly do what Eyman intend­ed it to do.

To elab­o­rate: Eyman’s stat­ed aim with Ini­tia­tive 976 was to repeal Sound Tran­sit’s motor vehi­cle excise tax, or MVET, which is one of the agen­cy’s pri­ma­ry rev­enue sources. But Eyman missed. The pro­vi­sion in I‑976 that osten­si­bly repeals the MVET only takes effect if Sound Tran­sit has the pow­er to defease the bonds those tax rev­enues are pledged to pri­or to when they are due to mature.

Sound Tran­sit does not have that pow­er because the terms under which it sold the bonds don’t allow for ear­ly defease­ment or retire­ment. Sound Tran­sit is oblig­at­ed under the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion to hon­or its con­tracts with bondholders.

“The ini­tia­tive does pro­vide that Sound Tran­sit should retire those bonds, but it does not pro­vide a date or dead­line by which that occurs,” agency gen­er­al coun­sel Desmond Brown told the Sound Tran­sit Board of Directors.

You can see for your­self what Brown is refer­ring to by read­ing Sec­tion 12 of I‑976:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 12. A new sec­tion is added to chap­ter 81.112 RCW to read as follows:

In order to effec­tu­ate the poli­cies, pur­pos­es, and intent of this act and to ensure that the motor vehi­cle excise tax­es repealed by this act are no longer imposed or col­lect­ed, an author­i­ty that impos­es a motor vehi­cle excise tax under RCW 81.104.160 must ful­ly retire, defease, or refi­nance any out­stand­ing bonds issued under this chap­ter if:

  1. Any rev­enue col­lect­ed pri­or to the effec­tive date of this sec­tion from the motor vehi­cle excise tax imposed under RCW 81.104.160 has been pledged to such bonds; and
  2. The bonds, by virtue of the terms of the bond con­tract, covenants, or sim­i­lar terms, may be retired or defeased ear­ly or refinanced.

The word “if” in this sec­tion, and the sub­sec­tions that fol­low it, are the key to under­stand­ing why Eyman’s swing was a miss. Sound Tran­sit is only oblig­at­ed to ful­ly retire, defease, or refi­nance any out­stand­ing bonds issued under the author­i­ty the Leg­is­la­ture gave it if the bonds may be retired, defeased ear­ly, or refinanced.

And the terms under which the bonds were sold don’t allow that.

So, it appears that regard­less of what hap­pens to I‑976 in the courts, ST’s bonds stay in place, as does the tax rev­enue that sup­ports them, from the motor vehi­cle excise tax paid by res­i­dents of urban King, Pierce, and Sno­homish counties.

The agency has assessed that about 53% of vot­ers in its juris­dic­tion vot­ed against I‑976, so keep­ing the tax­es in place is in fact the will of the peo­ple it serves.

“The ini­tia­tive and the Attor­ney General’s vot­er pam­phlet sum­ma­ry both make clear that state law requires the MVET [motor vehi­cle excise tax] to be col­lect­ed until Sound Transit’s bonds are repaid,” the agency said in a state­ment released yes­ter­day fol­low­ing the board­’s after­noon meet­ing and exec­u­tive session.

“We intend to con­tin­ue ful­fill­ing our oblig­a­tion to advance crit­i­cal vot­er-approved projects and ser­vices while we mon­i­tor lit­i­ga­tion and close­ly review legal issues sur­round­ing this ini­tia­tive,” the state­ment added, allud­ing to the law­suit filed by Garfield Coun­ty Trans­porta­tion Author­i­ty and a coali­tion of local gov­ern­ments against the state. “No action by the Board is need­ed or pru­dent at this time.”

It is not clear where all the lan­guage that’s in Ini­tia­tive 976 actu­al­ly came from.

While Eyman filed Ini­tia­tive 976 and is the attrib­uted author, and some parts of the mea­sure bear all the hall­marks of his author­ship (like the intent sec­tion), oth­er parts sound to me like they were writ­ten by unnamed collaborators.

For exam­ple, Sec­tion 12, seen above.

I have a hard time believ­ing this piece of Ini­tia­tive 976 came from Eyman.

Who­ev­er wrote it either did­n’t both­er to acquaint them­selves with the terms and con­di­tions of Sound Tran­sit’s bonds (which you can read below if you are so inclined, but be warned it’s a long doc­u­ment) or else was­n’t actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in help­ing Eyman gut Sound Tran­sit like a pig, as Eyman said he want­ed to do.

Terms of Sound Tran­sit’s Novem­ber 2016 bonds

Were the mea­sure to be imple­ment­ed as Eyman intend­ed, Sound Tran­sit would lose a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of its annu­al rev­enue, which would neg­a­tive­ly impact its abil­i­ty to bor­row mon­ey, jeop­ar­diz­ing up to $20 bil­lion in fund­ing, as pre­vi­ous­ly assessed by the agency. But it does not appear that will hap­pen because Eyman did­n’t draft an ini­tia­tive even capa­ble of gut­ting Sound Tran­sit like a pig.

This is per­haps the most com­pelling evi­dence of all that Eyman is not an “ini­tia­tive king” or “king­pin” as he has often been described. He is a cun­ning pitch­man and media manip­u­la­tor, to be sure, but he is incom­pe­tent at legislating.

A true “ini­tia­tive king” would draft ini­tia­tives that hold up in court and accom­plish the stat­ed aims of their cre­ator. I‑976 is a fail­ure on at least the lat­ter count. We’ll see what the courts have to say about its con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty, or lack thereof.

Pret­ty much every part of I‑976 is a lie. The mea­sure does not require vehi­cle fees to be lim­it­ed to thir­ty dol­lars (and even Eyman now admits this), it does­n’t allow “vot­er-approved charges” to be exempt from the false­ly adver­tised thir­ty dol­lar cap as its title says, and the mea­sure does not repeal or alter Sound Tran­sit’s MVET.

Eyman, aid­ed and abet­ted by a num­ber of peo­ple in the mass media (we’re look­ing at you, Dori Mon­son) sold peo­ple in coun­ties like Pierce a bill of goods in this elec­tion with Ini­tia­tive 976. Eyman and all who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the per­pe­tra­tion of this con against the vot­ers should suf­fer con­se­quences for their dishonesty.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Sound Transit’s general counsel concludes that Tim Eyman’s I‑976 won’t affect ST3”

  1. Oh so Don­ald T. “Tim” Eyman missed the tar­get and the golf ball went so far right it hit the tree, Jim? Why does any­one believe in Tim­my I dunno.

    In oth­er news, Jessyn Far­rell is ready to rum­ble and Hei­di Wills soars and Sound Tran­sit Light Rail is sexy and Don­ald J. Trump is a crook. Next on KOMO at 9 PM, “Seat­tle is Drown­ing”… because water is wet.

  2. Fun­ny com­ment, Joe!

    Sound Tran­sit ought to re-think some of their cur­rent plans, such as build­ing out and open­ing the Lyn­nwood to Mariner (128th) seg­ment sep­a­rate­ly from the rest of the 16 mile Everett line. It’s about the same length as the North­gate exten­sion, the same num­ber of sta­tions, and there’s no tun­nel­ing. Once com­plet­ed, it would con­nect to Swift Green. Then, save mon­ey by going along I‑5! Use a tiny part of that sav­ings to extend Swift Green to down­town Everett via 526 and the exist­ing Blue Line rout­ing and stations!

  3. Seems like Tim Eyman delib­er­ate­ly set him­self up to fail so he’d have a lot of fired up, out­raged Trump fans in a mood to give him more money… 

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