The Jan. 28 meeting of the Pierce County Council turned into something of a debate on regional transportation before the council ultimately voted 4 to 3 against a resolution expressing opposition to a bill in the state Legislature that would nullify certain taxes approved by Regional Transit Authority voters.

Senate Bill 6108, proposed by Republican Steve O’Ban, would nullify any transit taxes imposed on taxpayers in cities with a population of fewer than 1 million people. The bill is a response to voters’ passage in November of Initiative 976, which strips away many of the fees and taxes that have been accumulating since the first $30 car tab initiative was passed by voters some 20 years ago.

I-976, currently held up in the court system, was the result of sky-high car-tab fees resulting from an older and thus more expensive vehicle-valuation system Sound Transit used for the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure – a massive expansion of public transit service – approved by voters in November 2016.

“If the bill (SB 6108) is adopted, what it would do is essentially render void or nullified the taxes that are currently approved by the voters within the entire RTA regional transit area,” explained Hugh Taylor, senior legislative analyst, including property taxes, car tabs and sales taxes.

Of the $8.9 billion to be invested in Pierce County, Taylor said about $5.2 billion comes from ST3 tax revenues.

“It makes a significant change in direction for transportation in Pierce County that quite frankly would throw out a number of years of planning work, not only on the transportation side, but also on our land use policies,” said councilmember Derek Young, sponsor of Proposal No. R2020-5s against SB 6108.

Councilmember Pam Roach questioned how R2020-5s squares with the fact that on Dec. 10 the council voted to be part of the statewide lawsuit fighting to uphold the November vote of I-976, which passed statewide with a 53 percent vote. Pierce County approved I-976 by 66 percent.

“I believe this council should be consistent,” she said. “And if we’re going to be consistent, we would not be in favor of this particular dissing, you know, expressing disapproval of 6108.”

Young was sympathetic to people complaining of being hit with unexpectedly high vehicle tab fees.

“I can’t blame voters for expressing their dissatisfaction with our aggressively regressive tax code,” he said. “It is by far the most regressive in the country.”

Still, Young wondered how to deal with regional transit challenges if not with ST3.

“What are we going to do with traffic that is already beyond capacity?” he asked. “I-5 is a nightmare throughout the day now, and it’s only going to get much worse.”

Roach reiterated her earlier point, noting the Democratic majority in the state Legislature doesn’t bode well for SB 6108 becoming law.

“The bottom line is this council should be consistent,” she said. “This council should be respectful of the voters in Pierce County. This council has to know this, that when you look at this bill…it’s going no place. I don’t think it will even get a hearing.”

Roach, whose political career includes a 26-year tenure in the state Legislature, concluded by saying, “So, this is grandstanding – and that’s what it is – is just a waste of our time.”

Councilmembers Jim McCune and Dave Morell also weighed in on the issue, with the former lamenting what he characterized as ST3 taking $5.2 billion out of the county’s economy, and the latter questioning the necessity of the council involving itself on the state level at this point.

“This is a pretty long reach for this council to get involved in bills down in the Legislature that haven’t even been scheduled for a hearing,” Morell noted.

When the vote was taken on Proposal No. R2020-5s, it narrowly went down in defeat. Councilmembers Roach, McCune, Morell and Doug Richardson voted no, while councilmembers Young, Marty Campbell and Connie Ladenburg voted yes.

In a related vote, Proposal No. R2020-6, directing the Planning and Public Works Department to suspend all efforts regarding the Centers and Corridors planning process due to uncertainty over regional transit funding, was defeated 4 to 2. Councilmembers Morell, McCune, Roach and Richardson voted no, with councilmembers Campbell and Young voting yes. Councilmember Ladenburg was excused.

The Centers and Corridors plan is part of the Pierce County’s Community Plan updates and focuses on growth along several major transportation corridors.

In other business, the council passed Proposal No. R2020-3, an intergovernmental agreement between the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pierce County Auditor’s Office regarding online candidate filling. Essentially, it consolidates all such filings through the Secretary of State.

The council also passed Proposal No. R2020-4, regarding sharing maintenance and support costs of VoteWA, the state’s modernized election system, between the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pierce County Auditor’s Office.