This Washington

Transit Funding Bill Passes Legislature, Two-Thirds Requirement Stands

By Erica C. Barnett April 22, 2011

An emergency transit funding bill that would allow the King County Council to pass a two-year $20 vehicle license fee to shore up funding for King County Metro, which faces a $200 million revenue shortfall over the next two years, passed the senate this morning (after passing the house last night) and heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature. Gregoire vetoed similar, though broader, legislation two years ago but seems less likely to overturn this version, which has the support of powerful senate transportation committee chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10), who has not traditionally been a big supporter of transit funding. We have a call in to Gregoire's office to gauge her take on the bill.

The bill has been whittled down substantially from its original version, which would have included King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties and would have allowed each county's county council to pass a $30 fee with a simple-majority vote. The new version cuts the fee down to $20, limits eligibility to King County, and requires either a two-thirds vote of the King County Council, or a simple-majority vote of King County residents.

[pullquote]Republican King County Council member Jane Hague, who is being challenged by at least two opponents for reelection this year, will be the swing vote when the council takes up the fee.[/pullquote]

The house made a big deal about the two-third vote—seeing it as an expansion of Tim Eyman's two-thirds real at the local level—and took that provision out, forcing a conference committee between the senate and the house where the provision was added back in.

The King County Council is made up of five Democrats (who will almost certainly vote in favor of the fee) and four Republicans. Of those four, District 6 representative Jane Hague, who is being challenged by at least two opponents for reelection this year, is considered the swing vote (she testified in favor of the broader version of the legislation in Olympia back in February, but said she didn't know how she would ultimately vote) on the $20 fee.

Three newly elected Eastside senate Republicans---Steve Litzow (R-41), Joe Fain (R-47), and Andy Hill (R-45)---voted against the bill. The 'No' votes from these three moderate Republicans (who have crossed party lines on other votes, including medical marijuana and environmental bills) may offer a hint at how their Eastside colleague Hague might vote. We have a call in to Hague, who testified in favor of the bill, but only because, she told us at the time, she supported the the right of the county council to vote on the issue.

King County Council member Larry Phillips, meanwhile, tells PubliCola he's optimistic that the Democrats on the council will manage to sway at least one Republican vote. "If you'd said we'd get this far [by now] two or three years ago, I would have [been skeptical]," Phillips says. "I think, since then, I've earned my optimism. While this doesn't solve the problem, it'll certainly mitigate the pain tremendously."

If the county council Democrats don't get one of more Republican votes, Phillips says, they're likely to put the measure to a countywide vote in November.
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