Sound Transit could lose $2.3 billion.
Sound Transit could lose $2.3 billion. Sound Transit

Last week, the Washington State House of Representatives approved a bill that could change the way car tab taxes are calculated and in the process cost Sound Transit somewhere between $780 million and $2.3 billion. That chunk of funding is small relative to the $54 billion total of the Sound Transit 3 package approved in 2016. But it's who approved the cut that has transit supporters fuming.

Democrats control both the state House and Senate. The House approved the bill and Senate leadership has promised to follow suit. Transit advocates are wondering why Democrats are showing up at the table having already compromised. But it's not just hard-core transit groups asking WTF.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is now urging its supporters to write their state lawmakers and ask them to vote against changing the car tab formula unless they find another funding source to replace the money to Sound Transit.

"While we understand the importance of balancing funding needs and affordability in a way that is fair to taxpayers," the Chamber writes in a form email to send lawmakers, "we oppose the bills currently under consideration in the State House and Senate because their passage would result in a multi-billion-dollar impact that would inevitably delay or eliminate important voter-approved projects."

In 2016, the Chamber supported ST3, a tax package that will eventually expand light rail to Ballard, West Seattle, and across the region. Big businesses like Microsoft and Amazon were among the pro-ST3 campaign's top contributors. Microsoft alone gave $300,000 to the campaign. Car tabs are one of the funding sources for the light rail projects included in ST3. The formula used to calculate those tab fees inflates the value of some cars.

"Delivering the full ST3 plan approved by voters is critically important to mobility in our state, particularly in giving more Puget Sound residents a reliable, affordable option to get between where they live and where they work," the Chamber writes. "Any efforts to make changes to the MVET valuation schedule must also include mechanisms to offset any resulting funding lost for Sound Transit 3 projects." (MVET or Motor Vehicle Excise Tax is another name for the car tab fee.)

After passing the state House, the bill will now go to the Senate Transportation Committee. Some House Democrats are urging senators to find money to backfill the loss to Sound Transit.