Afternoon Jolt

Today's first loser: King County Metro transit riders. 

King County Metro transit riders will see yet another fare increase next year, Metro general manager Kevin Desmond told the King County Council today—and it's unclear how deep the county will be asking riders to reach into their pockets this time. 

Metro's budget for next year includes a fare increase of 25 cents, which would buy the agency about $10 million toward what would otherwise be an $85 million funding shortfall, although the King County Council could decide to go higher. 
As we reported yesterday, when Metro's authorization to charge a temporary $20 vehicle license fee runs out, transit riders could face the complete elimination of 65 bus routes and cuts to 86 more if the state legislature fails to provide King County with new local funding authority.
Metro's base fare of $2.25, which represents an 80 percent hike since 2008, puts the agency in the top third of the nation's highest cities, Desmond told the council. If fares had merely kept pace with inflation, they would be $1.33. Meanwhile, the agency's fare recovery ratio—the amount of Metro funding that comes from fares—is nearly 28 percent, or 3 percent higher than the county's goal. 

Asked what else Metro had done to cut costs, Desmond pointed—as he did at yesterday's press briefing—to the agency's implementation of furloughs, pay freezes, and layoffs. However, he said, there's only so much they can cut.

"Most of our employees drive a bus, maintain a bus or answer the telephones—they provide direct service to customers. "We removed recovery time and layoff time from routes" and deferred buying new buses, but "deferred maintenance costs a lot more money in the end." 

Today's other losers (via the legislative session in Olympia): Immigrants and public health. 

There's some bad news for a few of liberal priorities in Olympia today.

Tomorrow is the latest cutoff in Olympia—it's the last chance for policy bills that passed one chamber to pass out of policy commitees in the other.

First, two immigration rights bills appear to have died in the Republican-controlled state senate after passing the house: 1) The local version of the Dream Act, which would give kids of undocumented immigrants access to college financial aid (the state need grant); and 2) a bill known as the "Voting Rights Act," which would allow minority communities to demand district-based voting if they could show that at-large voting systems were disenfranchising major voting blocs.

Tomorrow is the latest cutoff in Olympia—it's the last chance for policy bills that passed one chamber to pass out of policy commitees in the other.

In this insance, the Dream Act, which passed the house in mid-March, needed to pass out of the senate higher ed committee, and the Voting Rights Act, which passed the house in early March, needed to pass out of the government operations committee.

Both committees did hold hearings on the bills: In the case of the Dream Act—packed with supporters; and in the case of the Voting Rights Act—under a cloud of hypocrisy from Roach who sponsored and passed an earlier bill supporting district elections for her own hospital district. But today was the last day either committee was scheduled to meet before Wednesday's cutoff. Both committees canceled their meetings today.

Fizz had identified the Dream Act and the Voting Rights act as a major test for Sen. Rodney Tom's (D-48, Medina) senate. Tom, the renegade Democrat who joined with the minority Republicans to give them control of the senate with Tom as leader, pledged to his Democratic voters that his coup would not upend the Democratic Party's social agenda.

However, the de facto Republican majority, with conservative Republicans in control of committees (Sen. Pam Roach, R-31, Auburn, chairs government operations and Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-10, Oak Harbor, chairs higher ed) have defeated the Democrats' immigration rights agenda. Bailey published an op/ed last week saying the state didn't have the money to expand eligibility for financial aid.

About 200 supporters of the immigrants' rights agenda arrived in Olympia today, "to send the message that we're going to keep fighting," says OneAmerica lobbyist Toby Guevin, who reports that the Dream Act has the 25 votes to pass on the senate floor (and the four votes—including Sen. Tom—to pass out of committee).

Another potential cutoff casualty for the Democrats in the senate: an environmental bill to upgrade water efficiency (in home plumbing such as shower heads) and energy efficiency (in batteries).

The Washington Realtors Association were the only ones who testified against the bill in the house where it passed 59-38.

The senate's environment committee, chaired by conservative Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale), is holding a hearing on the bill this afernoon, but they have not scheduled a vote.