1. During a briefing of the city council's transportation committee yesterday morning on the proposed First Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar, council staffers confirmed that, barring a project that comes in dramatically under budget, there will probably not be enough money left to extend the streetcar north to Aloha on Capitol Hill. Sound Transit has pledged $132.8 million to the project.[pullquote]"I wouldn't put a lot of faith in the idea that the contingency will be around" for the Capitol Hill streetcar extension.[/pullquote]
"I wouldn't put a lot of faith in the idea that the contingency will be around" for the extension, council central staffer Krista Valles said, noting that "the streetcar costs are only going up."
Among other unanticipated expenses, the streetcars themselves ended up costing more than anticipated, and all the bids were "significantly higher" than the city expected, city transportation department streetcar project manager Ethan Melone told the council. The city has also agreed to add rubberized flanges to the tracks, to mitigate concerns that senior citizens in the International District would get a cane or walker caught in the tracks.
2. Not only did the legislature fail to pass a budget during the special session that tackles the whole $1.5 billion shortfall as the governor asked them to (the house voted 86-8 yesterday for its "early action" budget, which cuts about $320 million and scoops up another $100 million from other funds, but doesn't go for Gregoire's full-on $2 billion in cuts and half-penny sales tax increase for buybacks), but Fizz is starting to think there's actually something to the rumors that the legislature isn't even going to deal with the budget until mid-February.
The idea, confirmed by legislative sources, is this: The next revenue forecast hits in February, and some key lawmakers are hoping the economy is going to turn around—and that the shortfall won't be as bad by then.
There are, of course, two problems with that approach. 1) Time is money: Even if budget optimists are right and February's forecast shows more revenue coming in than we're banking on today, giving up three months' worth of potential savings by not enacting cuts now may end up canceling out any financial gain from a February uptick, and 2) What makes anyone think there's going to be good economic news?
3. As we noted yesterday, the city council's public utilities committee---consisting, on this occasion, of committee chair Mike O'Brien and council member Bruce Harrell---voted to ban single-use plastic bags and institute a five-cent "pass-through" charge on grocery-size paper bags that would go to retailers. The committee also adopted several changes to the initial proposal to address concerns from retailers and food banks.
Among other changes, the legislation as adopted would: Exempt food banks, which rely heavily on donated bags; specify that only large grocery bags are subject to the charge (as opposed to smaller paper bags, like the ones used to hold greeting cards); and include a provision that would sunset the fee in 2016, on the theory that shoppers will get used to bringing their own bags, making the charge unnecessary. The full council will vote on the ban next Monday.
4. Jeff Wright, Chair of the Space Needle Corporation, has maxed out to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, contributing a grand total of $3,200.
The problem is that Wright's $3,200, two donations of $1,600, were both earmarked for the the primary, according to campaign finance records. State campaign finance law only allows individuals to contribute $1,600 per election, once in the primary and once in the general. Oops.
5. Gov. Chris Gregoire announced an education reform proposal yesterday that featured a new teacher evaluation system. The proposal is a nod to the corporate community's pet cause—cracking down on bad teachers. But it was a slap at her Democratic union base, namely the teachers' union, which scoffed in response: "The biggest problem facing our public schools isn’t bad teachers. The biggest threat facing our students and public schools is bad corporate tax loopholes that let our most profitable businesses and wealthiest individuals avoid paying their fair share."
Theory: Gregoire kissed up to biz and inched away from her base in a quid pro quo to get biz to campaign for her half-penny sales tax idea.