1. When the Seattle Department of Transportation goes before the council’s transportation committee tomorrow to ask permission to write a $1.4 million check to Pronto, there may be a sticking point: SDOT has already written a couple of big checks directly to the beleaguered bike share nonprofit without the council's explicit approval.
Pronto, which has 3,000 members but hasn’t met ride-per-bike-per-day projections and doesn’t have enough money to pay off its KeyBank loan while simultaneously covering operations, will cease to operate as of March 31 if the city doesn’t buy it out. The nonprofit would use the $1.4 million to pay off its KeyBank loan and then the city would take over the 500-bike, 54-station system (with stations in downtown, Capitol Hill, the U District right now) and put a contract out to bid this spring for a company to operate and expand the system.
But here’s a detail that (until it was shown on slide 18 out of 20 at a preliminary council briefing on Pronto's financial dire straits on February 2) hasn't gotten much attention: The city has already spent $305,000 to keep Pronto afloat through February. SDOT went ahead and gave $65,000 to Pronto last December and $240,000 this year so Pronto could pay its vendor contract. A council staff report written this week in advance of Friday's meeting specifically flags the expenditure.
Asked if the council knew last year and earlier this year that SDOT had already written checks to Pronto, SDOT manager Barbara Gray told me simply, “We had the budget authority.”
This is technically true. SDOT used money from its street use fee program, which is allowed to pay for bike programming, to help Pronto pay its bills. However, the council was not aware of the specific line item for Pronto, which was supposedly a self-sustaining nonprofit, not a city expense, when council approved SDOT’s budget late last year.
City council transportation chair Mike O’Brien would not comment on the SDOT expenditure, but it's likely the $305,000 will come up at tomorrow’s transportation committee meeting.
Gray reasoned, “We didn’t want to interrupt service. We wanted to keep it up and functioning.” SDOT will make its pitch for another $1.4 million to keep Pronto functioning tomorrow.
The $1.4 million is part of a $5 million Pronto line item the council did approve during last year’s budget deliberations, but that money was earmarked for a Pronto expansion, not a resuscitation.
2. More good news for charter schools: While the house hasn’t passed senator Steve Litzow’s (R-41, Mercer Island) charter schools funding fix yet (it passed the senate 27 to 20 last month and is up for a hearing in the house education committee tomorrow), a duo of wealthy charter schools supporters—Steve and Connie Ballmer—opened a new political committee last week to back charters.
Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the LA Clippers, and his wife, Connie Ballmer, have seeded the Washington Charters Action PAC with $250,000. The PAC will promote candidates who support charter schools. Lisa Macfarlane, the head of Democrats for Education Reform, is on the board of the new group.
3. State senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) picked up a couple of national environmental endorsements this week in her election bid for U.S. congress; Jayapal is running to replace retiring veteran liberal icon U.S. representative Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7) in a field that also includes Democratic King County Council member Joe McDermott (no relation) and state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill).
Jayapal rolled out endorsements earlier this week from climate change author/activist Bill McKibben, who successfully led the charge against the Keystone XL pipeline with hard-hitting Rolling Stone magazine treatises and a mostly student powered divestment movement with his group 350.org. Jayapal also got the nod from Friends of the Earth, a national environmental group.