This Washington

Extra Fizz: Senate Poised to Kill Transit Funding

By Erica C. Barnett March 11, 2010

UPDATE: The Senate, as predicted, rejected the Rep. Liias' transit funding amendment. Adding insult to injury for transit advocates—and to people stuck waiting for buses—Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen wouldn't even let the Senate consider the amendment, ruling it "out of scope" to the main bill.

In the words of Transportation Choices Coalition lobbyist Andrew Austin, "Lazarus got risen from the dead yesterday," when the state House decided to include new funding options for Pierce and Community (Snohomish County) Transit, which recently eliminated all service on Sundays, in a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr (D-6).

However, Austin says, the state Senate is poised to "put a stake in the heart of transit yet again" later today, when Senate leaders are expected to kill the amendment for the third time this session.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) would allow both transit agencies to pass vehicle-license fees of up to $20, and put a fee before voters of up to $100, to restore cuts to transit service. However, Austin says, opponents in the Senate, including Marr and transportation committee chair Mary Margaret Haugen, have vowed to kill it.

Asked what the House's bargaining chip would be if the Senate kills transit again, House finance chair Ross Hunter said, "I don't do game theory with the press."

The amendments are currently being reviewed by Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, who'll determine if they meet the "scope and object" of Marr's original legislation, which clears up some discrepancies in a previous law allowing local jurisdictions to create special taxing districts to pay for transit. Last year, Austin says, Owen became "the accidental hero for transit" when he cast a tie-breaking vote to move similar legislation (subsequently vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire) allowing King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties to pass the fee for transit. The only difference this year is that the Senate, not Gregoire, will be responsible for killing transit funding.
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