Yes or no on $54 billion light rail extension plan on November ballot?

SEATTLE -- As the fall campaigns start gearing up, voters are going to hear a lot more about the largest item on the ballot by far -- the $54 billion plan to extend light rail up to Everett and down to Tacoma.

The expensive third phase of Sound Transit is generating lots of debate and pushback from those who worry about all the new taxes.

Here are the highlights of the ST3 plan:

•             $54 billion

•             $400 annually for average household (property, sales, and car tax)

•             62-miles of new light rail (Everett, Tacoma, Redmond)

•             Ballard to West Seattle line

•             25-year program

For many, it was sticker shock when Sound Transit unveiled the $54 billion plan earlier this year.  Anti-tax activists, including Tim Eyman, have argued that the proposal is too large and that Sound Transit’s track record is too mixed.

But a new concern is now emerging -- from those who are actually sympathetic to light rail.  They argue that the light rail plan could actually jeopardize funding for public schools. The Legislature is under a Washington Supreme Court mandate to provide billions more for public schools.

Here’s what state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, recently wrote:

“I continue to grapple on a deeply personal level with the genuine burden the Sound Transit proposal places on public education…the package consumes the oxygen in the room on taxes for virtually all other public services at all levels of government for years to come.” (Publicola)

So, as this debate goes forward, expect to hear more about whether there are enough taxes out there to raise for both transportation and public schools.