The senate and house negotiating teams just conferenced on the King County Metro transit funding bill—and the senate won.

The senate's requirement that the King County Council needs a two-thirds vote to pass a $20 license fee to pay for emergency transit funding is, once again, part of the bill. The house had amended the senate version earlier this month to scrap the two-thirds requirement.

After meeting this afternoon, the group—including the original sponsors, Sen. Scott White and Rep. Marko Liias—came up with language that decries the two-thirds rule, in a nod to the house's objections, but that sticks with the requirement anyway.

Here's the nod, added to the intent section of the bill:

The legislature recognizes that the title of initiative 1053 states that it applies only to tax and fee increases imposed by state government, and that the text of the initiative requires a two-thirds majority only for tax increases. The legislature further recognizes that initiative 1053 does not apply to local government.  Despite these facts, this act requires a two-thirds majority of the Metropolitan King County Council in order to implement a local option fee, in the form of a congestion reduction charge, to help fund King County Metro transit service.  Faced with the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of hours of vital transit service, it is the intent of the legislature to provide King County with this temporary local option funding mechanism.  It is further the intent of the legislature not to expand the parameters of initiative 1053 beyond what the voters intended and thus interfere with local control or limit the ability of local governments to provide services to the people of Washington.

The conference report needs to be signed by two members of each team and then it will go back to both chambers where it gets an up or down vote, no amendments.

So, who gets the Afternoon Jolt winner and loser this afternoon? King County Executive Dow Constantine and transit advocates have been working this bill, which will bring $67 million to Metro, hard, urging Democrats to pass it however they can, two-thirds rule or not. Without the legislation, Metro could have to cut 200,000 hours of service starting next year.

We'd like to call them winners, but there's no guarantee now that the the county council will be able to pass the fee. Yes, Republican council member Jane Hague may very well vote for it, giving the Democratic council its extra vote for the two-thirds win. After all, she did go down to Olympia to testify for the bill earlier this session; and she's up for reelection this year, and would have to face voters who've had their bus service eviscerated thanks to her if she votes 'No.'

But two footnotes on that: Hague told PubliCola she lobbied for the bill because she simply wanted the council to have the opportunity to vote on it in principle, not necessarily because she supports it. Second footnote, the election may actually cause her to vote against it because that would be a way to contrast herself as an anti-tax Republican, compared to her two more liberal opponents.

So, hard to say.

We can say this, though. Democracy loses. This two-thirds voting rule is bordering on pathological.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Seattle), who led the house revolt against the senate's two-thirds language earlier in the month (and who Sen. White says signed off on the deal even though he wasn't part of the conference committee) tells PubliCola that "faced with the political reality of losing hundreds and thousands of bus hours in my district and across the city and county" made him look for a way "to find a balance" between his disgust with the two-thirds rule and the need to fund service. "The intent language," he says of today's compromise, "is an unequivocal articulation that it's the legislature's view that this is not a precedent to bring the 1053 [two-thirds] rule to local government."
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