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Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives

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March 4, 2004

CONTACT: Maggie Fimia, Co-Chair
Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives
206 368-0814 or 206 380-9662 cell

CETA response to Supreme Court Decision on Sound Transit

CETA, The Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives is deeply disappointed with the State Supreme Court's decision.

Sadly, it appears that the state requires more disclosure and provides more protection to a person buying a used car than to taxpayers footing the bill for a multi-billion dollar project.

This ominous decision means that government agencies in Washington State can submit projects to voters for approval and funding authority, make unequivocal promises about cost, benefits and schedules and then build vastly different, more expensive projects, with markedly lesser benefits, and extend taxing authority indefinitely. All they have to claim is that the details provided were really "principles of a plan" and not the plan itself.

We agree with Justice Sander's dissenting statement that "Such a conclusion defies the law governing voters pamphlets designed to foster full voter awareness and open government."

Let us be very clear. The Court and Sound Transit agree that the reduced 14-mile light rail line is a substantial deviation from the 21-mile light rail line approved by the voters. The Court further acknowledges, "[W]hile minor details in a public project may be changed by the governing agency, taxpayer funds may not be used to construct a substantially different project than the one approved by voters." However, the Court finds that the deviations are lawful in this case because, "the voters granted Sound Transit discretion to change the plan."

This discretion was cleverly inserted into the ballot title by including the words "and Resolution 75." Text of that Resolution was never disclosed, mailed out, included in the body of the ballot measure or referenced anywhere else. In fact, just the opposite occurred. All the information about the ballot measure assured us that the project would be a specific length, for a conservative price and built within 10 years. The word "and" implied to those of us supporting the measure that Resolution 75 was consistent with a description of the 10 Year Plan.

"That Sound Transit elected to withhold any hint of its now asserted discretionary power from the voters in the eight-page brochure means that alleged discretionary power was neither submitted to nor possibly approved by the voters," wrote Justice Sanders, in his dissent. Those of us who supported the plan in 1996 agree. This majority decision means, in effect, that before we vote, we will now have to consult our lawyers because the fine print of a government contract doesn't even have to be in the contract. It means that the check we sign may be a blank check and that a "Ten Year Plan" really means indefinitely.

At a time when public trust in government is extremely low and support for additional transportation funding desperately needed, this decision will have a chilling affect on voter trust and their support of all future ballot measures.

It's unfortunate that Sound Transit has used its "discretion" to build a worse, much more costly, delayed project rather than an affordable, effective project.

Sound Transit could use its discretion and our billions from Seattle and North King County to expand their Regional Express Bus infrastructure and service. That way, they could keep faith with the voters by delivering transit service on time and on budget to all the regional destinations promised in 1996.

The State legislature created this agency, they now must rein it in.


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