Caffeinated News & Gossip

1. A maelstrom of emails against a formerly low-profile senate bill (only three people testified in the hearing last week) overwhelmed senate in-boxes yesterday. The legislation would fast track the Cherry Point coal train project by easing requirements on "projects of statewide significance" so that they wouldn't have to show a net environmental benefit to the state as a whole or have local community approval.

The bill, sponsored by conservative Democrat Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens)—the one Democrat in last year's intramural brawl in the 1st Congressional District's de facto D primary who was pro coal train—was set for a floor vote yesterday, but the email blast coordinated by environmentalists evidently gave the bill's proponents pause and the vote was put off. 

 The emails read:

Ask your Senator to oppose fast-tracking big industrial projects with major environmental impacts by voting against SB 5805. Email your senator right now >>

This bill proposes to change a little-used provision of state law to expedite the review and permitting for projects of statewide significance. Currently, for a project to be designated a project of statewide significance, it has to at least provide a net environmental benefit and be supported by the local city or county government.

Senate Bill 5805 removes both of these requirements. Instead, the project simply has to provide an environmental benefit to any region of the state – that is, even if the proposal would decimate Puget Sound, as long as it improves a wetland in Wenatchee, the project could be fast-tracked.

The bill, which could certainly come back up, is co-sponsored by five Republicans and renegade Democrat Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch).

2. The more closely advocates for transit and bike investments look at the transportation package proposed by state house transportation chair Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island) last week, the more alarming the package looks.

Of th entire $10 billion total in the proposed transportation package, less than $100 million appears to have anything to do with biking and pedestrian projects. It's not just the fact that the package includes no new major investments in Seattle. And it isn't just the "symbolic" bike tax, which would raise just 0.01 percent of the $10 billion total by slapping a tax of up to 5 percent on bike sales.

It's that of that entire $10 billion total, less than $100 million appears to have anything to do with biking and pedestrian projects—$61 million for complete streets projects and $34 million for Safe Routes to School. Those numbers, moreover, include big costs that have nothing to do with bike lanes and sidewalks, for things like street reconstruction and freight mobility.

Meanwhile, as Sightline points out, the package as a whole includes six times as much funding for new highway lanes as it does for road maintenance and upkeep.

3. Over in the state senate, Majority Coalition Caucus leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) and Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) have proposed a bill that require WSDOT to study options to give Mercer Island residents the right to drive on a portion of I-90 without paying a toll. Although the legislation technically applies to "all Washington residents," the toll exemption only applies to people driving to or from Mercer Island itself; people driving the entire stretch of I-90 from Seattle past Mercer Island and on to Bellevue would have to pay.

Some version of the proposal seems likely to pass: At a senate transportation committee yesterday, Mercer Island officials and state transportation department tolling division director Craig Stone spoke in favor of the bill.

4. Despite the potential for lost future revenues to the ailing state budget—plus the hundreds and millions in looming tax refunds the state would have to pay to cell phone companies, the nervous Republicans in the senate still haven't moved their own bill to even the playing field by making currently exempt landline customers pay a tax that cell phone customers have been paying for years.

The easy fix, which would prevent cell phone telecoms such as Verizon from suing while also cutting a tax break for telecoms such as AT&T, got a second life yesterday when state Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne) stepped up and introduced the legislation in the Democratic house. Ending the landline tax break could bring in $80 million for the state.

It will be a total "Isn't it Weird That" if lefty hippie Mayor Mike McGinn gets the police union endorsement.

5. It will be a total "Isn't it Weird That" if lefty hippie Mayor Mike McGinn gets the police union endorsement in the upcoming mayor's race.

But that's certainly what he seems to be angling for. First, McGinn backed the cops in their fight with the Department of Justice over oversight in general and then he backed them in their fight with the council over the selection of the independent police monitor.

And now, the Seattle Times reports, McGinn is backing the SPD in its battle with lefty City Attorney Pete Holmes over a draft proposal of the monitoring plan.

The Times' Steve Miletich reports:

In a strongly worded email, McGinn’s legal counsel, Carl Marquardt, accused Holmes of an ethical breach of the attorney-client privilege as the city works to comply with a settlement agreement with the Department of Justiceto curb excessive force and biased policing.

Marquardt said it was time to institute an “ethical screen” between Holmes and the attorneys in his office who are representing the city in the matter.

Holmes’ office replied in a terse statement Tuesday night, saying his office “categorically denies any breach of the City Attorney’s ethical obligations to the City.”

It added, “As the independently elected City Attorney with supervisory control over litigation” Holmes can “communicate with the monitor and Department of Justice with the goal of protecting the City’s interests.”