One Question

Transportation Choices Coalition—longtime advocates for transit, bike and pedestrian facilities, and other alternatives to driving solo in your car—previewed its legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session in Olympia this afternoon. In short, it's pretty much the same as last year's agenda, which is to say: They didn't get anything they wanted last year. 

In addition to the no-brainer neighborhood safe streets bill, which stalled out in the senate last year after passing unanimously in the house (the bill would allow cities to lower speed limits on nonarterial roads to 20 miles per hour without going through a costly and drawn-out engineering study), TCC's To-do-list includes: Extending or expanding the state's Complete Streets grant program; allowing tolls to be spent to benefit all road users, not just drivers; increasing funding for transit, including either more local funding options or state funding; and adding a health component to the state's transportation goals. 

Currently, with the balance of power in the senate in question, it's unclear whether the senate transportation committee will be friendly or unfriendly to transit funding. After last month's election, the senate is effectively run by a Republican majority, including two conservative Democrats, Tim Sheldon (D-35) and Rodney Tom (D-48). Meanwhile, transportation committee member Dan Swecker (R-20), who supported transportation revenue measures in the past, was defeated by a more conservative Republican, John Braun, in November.

Ultimately, TCC lobbyist Carrie Dolwick said today, the decision about whether to extend King County's ability to fund transit with a local $20 vehicle-license fee will hinge on a couple of historically pro-transit senate Republicans—Steve Litzow (R-41) and Joe Fain (R-47).

"If you place a package that ties the basic existence of these transit agencies along with some road packages, it becomes more palatable."

State legislators who don't want to renew Metro's license fee authority, meanwhile, hope to include transit funding (not just for Metro, but for Community Transit and Pierce Transit, which are facing massive cuts) in a much larger statewide transportation package that would include funding for roads   and would have to be approved by voters.

Meanwhile, both the legislature and Gov.-elect Jay Inslee are preoccupied with how to address the state supreme court's McCleary decision, which says the state has failed to fulfill its obligation to adequately fund public education. 

So our One Question for TCC is: What are the prospects (really) for transit funding in the upcoming legislative session, and what happens if the legislature fails to act? 

Dolwick, speaking at today's forum, had this to say: 

"In Olympia this year, the conversation is really going to be dominated by how do we start to put a down payment on our education system." Given that, "It would be difficult to see [Inslee] as stepping up as a leader for new transportation revenue in this session.

"One big problem is [legislators arguing that they] don’t want to have a big transportation revenue package, because we ... want to keep them hungry for a wider transportation package" in 2014.

But if Metro's funding ends this year, Dolwick added, "Metro would be facing 600,000 hours of service cuts, or 17 percent"—the equivalent of eliminating all weekend service, which King County's neighboring transit agencies, Pierce Transit and Community Transit, have already have to do.  

However—invoking an argument familiar to anyone who followed the failed 2007 "Roads and Transit" vote—TCC's Shefali Ranganathan added that including roads in a statewide transportation package might make it more palatable to voters.

"[Transit] is on a cliff, and if you place a package that ties the basic existence of these transit agencies along with some road packages, it becomes more palatable. ... It just changes the politics of any transportation package."