1. Yesterday, North Seattle state representative Jessyn Farrell (D-46) was threatening to add a referendum clause to the $16.1 billion state transportation package that legislative leaders had unveiled earlier that morning. Given that the plan comes with an 11.9 cent gas tax, sending the entire transportation package to the ballot (that's what a referendum clause does) would surely jeopardize the whole thing.
Eastern Washington voters would likely balk at the tax. And King County voters, which can sway statewide elections—like when they killed the roads and transit initiative in 2007—would provide plenty of thumbs down for a transportation package that dedicates 94 percent of the money to roads, with only 6 percent of the total spending going to multimodal projects.
The proposal dedicates $8.8 billion to state and local road projects, $1.4 billion to maintenance and preservation, and just less than $1 billion to multimodal projects. Sound Transit will also get authority to seek voter approval for another $15 billion in regional taxes for ST3 to extend the line south from Federal Way to Tacoma, north from Lynnwood to Everett, and expand within Seattle.
Farrell, the former director of Transportation Choices Coalition, is certainly a pro-transit progressive and wants the $15 billion ST authority. But here's the catch: As PubliCola first reported yesterday morning, the proposal came with a sales tax charge on ST3—costing the agency about $500 million; and that money would go into the state general fund. (Go to page 114 of the legislation.)
"So, I'm supposed to go to my constituents, and with a straight face tell them, 'Yeah, we're granting you the privilege to tax yourselves and, oh, we're also charging you a $500 million premium," she said yesterday. And, Farrell pointed out, there's no guarantee that any of the local money would come back to the Puget Sound.
Farrell actually has two gripes with the proposal. In addition to the $500 million hit on ST, she doesn't like the so-called "poison pill" that Republicans forced on Inslee. The "poison pill" says that if Inslee enacts low-carbon fuel standards for cars, all the multimodal money in the package will go to roads instead. However, Farrell acknowledges, the poison pill appears to be a done deal. So, she was focusing on the ST fee.
Her initial plan, she told me yesterday, was an amendment that would reserve the $500 million for the Puget Sound. "For schools. For programs. Our tax dollars would stay here."
She said if the legislature didn't accept the amendment, she'd put a referendum clause on the transportation package—which would likely have the backing of Republicans.
Farrell's threat seemed to get some attention, she spent the afternoon in negotiations. As of this morning, those talks were still in play.
There are a couple of ironies here. First, Democrats, conscious of McCleary, actually objected to the idea of taking sales tax money out of the general fund all session; a Republican component of the transportation package dictates that sales tax revenue from transportation projects go to the transportation package itself, rather than to the general fund. In that light, the ST charge is a gotcha on Democrats. Basically, the GOP said that if Democrats were so upset about losing general fund money, they could cushion the blow by taxing ST. Democrats were so desperate for ST3, they accepted the lose lose.
The other irony of Farrell's gambit: ST spokesman Geoff Patrick tells me Sound Transit supports the transportation deal even though ST, unlike WSDOT, is currently exempt from sales tax. "The proposal does include a sales tax [on ST3] that will increase project costs by 1 to 2 percent," he said. He then added, "It's a priority of our board to move forward with with ST3 and put it on the ballot next year, and this agreement allows that to occur."
Environmental groups were split over the package. In a press release yesterday, several green groups, including Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council and OneAmerica (a civil rights group that prioritizes environmental social justice), denounced the "poison pill" that upended the low-carbon fuels standard.
“When you look at the Senate’s proposal on transportation revenue, it’s pretty clear who is being prioritized: the oil industry,” Rich Stolz, executive director of OneAmerica, said. “Communities of color and low income communities are disproportionally impacted by climate disruption and air pollution.... Pitting clean air and transit against each other is a social and environmental injustice.”
However, two other green groups, Futurewise and Transportation Choices Coalition, urged people to support the package. In a joint statement this morning, TCC policy director Andrew Austin and Futurewise policy director Bryce Yadon cheered the $15 billion in ST3 authority, saying: "With voter approval in 2016, [it] will allow for light rail expansion to Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, West Seattle and Ballard. Without this authority there are zero dollars to expand regional transit in the Puget Sound area, and we’ll watch the 2016 general election come and go. We’ll have to wait years and potentially decades for another shot at the high capacity transit service our region so desperately needs."
As for the the low percentage dedicated to multimodal infrastructure, they looked on the bright side by noting the projects the money would fund, such as bike share expansion to the east side of Lake Washington, more Rapid Ride bus service, a new Swift BRT line in Snohomish county, and the Northgate bike-pedestrian bridge.
In addition to the $10 million for the Northgate ped bridge, local multimodal money includes another nearly $21 million for: Rapid Ride bus expansion between Burien and Delridge, Route 40 between Northgate and Downtown, Route 43 and 44 from Ballard to the University District, more buses on the Fremont Transit corridor, improvements on MLK and Rainier, and Route 48 North University Link Station to Loyal Heights.
2. "This is not compromise legislation, it's the strongest possible package," longtime police accountability advocate and public defender Lisa Daugaard told me this morning about the police oversight legislation mayor Ed Murray is sending to the city council.
Among many reforms: the legislation makes Daugaard's civilian oversight group (the Community Police Commission) permanent; it creates a buffer between the city and the Office of Professional Accountability (the internal SPD office that reviews complaints of police misconduct) with whistle blower protections; it enables the OPA to revise the police manual so it doesn't give cover to rogue behavior; and it gives responsibility to handle appeals of discipline imposed by the chief to the City Attorney's office, to ensure the chief isn't subject to pressure to deal away discipline in political negotiations with the union.
Speaking of the union, several other changes recommended by the CPC will need to go to the bargaining table, including eliminating multiple routes for officers to appeal discipline, restoring discipline for “conduct unbecoming to an officer” in off-duty situations, and including civilians in intake and investigations of citizen complaints.
The city council will take up the legislation next month.
Earlier this month, frustrated at the bogged down negotiations with the mayor's office, Daugaard told me the fate of the CPC's legislative recommendation was a "litmus test" for the relevance of the civilian accountability group, which was created during the DOJ consent decree process in 2012.