Sound Transit Board should be directly elected and accountable to the public

By MARIYA FROST  | 
LEGISLATIVE MEMO
|
Jan 18, 2017

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Key Findings

  1. The Sound Transit Board collects billions in taxes but is unaccountable to the public because its members are hand-picked by three county executives.  Nine members of the 18-member board are controlled by the King County Executive.
     
  2. This insider appointment structure insulates members from accountability to the public for cost overruns, broken promises, project mismanagement, and conflicts of interest.
     
  3. Defenders of the insider system say the appointed members are already elected local officials, but this is inaccurate and misleading, because these officials are not directly elected by voters to the transit board.
     
  4. Because members must be public officials in order to serve on the Board, there are serious, built-in conflicts of interest. The former Board chairman is also King County Executive and the head of King County Metro. It is not possible for the Executive to objectively serve the public interest and the conflicting agendas of both agencies.
     
  5. Senate Bill 5001 (and its companion, House Bill 1029) would make Sound Transit fully accountable to the public with directly-elected Board members. The bill would promote democracy, end political conflicts of interest, give people a direct voice, and allow ordinary citizens to run for Board positions.
     

Introduction

In 2016, Sound Transit Board Chairman Dow Constantine and other Sound Transit Board members pushed hard for the passage of one of the largest rail-centric tax increases in the nation – Sound Transit 3 (ST3).  As a result, they expect to collect $54 billion over the next 25 years.  The tax ballot measure passed with 58 percent approval in King County, a bare 51 percent approval in Snohomish County, and failed in Pierce County, with only 44 percent of people voting for the measure.

The great majority of the people who live in the Sound Transit taxing district do not use light rail or other Sound Transit services, but they have to subsidize it for the few who do.

Currently, members of the Sound Transit Board are appointed, leading to public concerns about political favoritism and conflicts of interest.  To create greater public accountability, Senator Steve O’Ban and Representative Mark Harmsworth have proposed legislation to improve the Sound Transit governance structure by making members directly elected by citizens.  

This paper analyzes the proposed legislation, reviews concerns about political abuse and accountability, and evaluates the importance of shifting power back to citizens. 

Download file Download the full Legislative Memo - Sound Transit Board should be directly elected and accountable to the public