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On Other Blogs Today: Unsustainable Savings, Roads and Transit Redux, and More

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By Erica C. Barnett July 2, 2013


1. The News Tribune has a detailed report on the budget deal lawmakers reached last Saturday, which resulted, in part, from a combination of an improved revenue forecast, the closure of two tax exemptions, and federal funding from Obamacare.

But a bigger factor, they write, was an infusion of money from the state's Public Works Assistance Account, which provides low-interest construction loans to cities and utilities. (We covered the budget breakdown here). Essentially, legislators diverted utility and real-estate taxes that would have gone into the account to pay for education instead.

By raiding the account, the legislature "found" $354 million. But they also made it harder, the News Tribune reports, to build needed water and infrastructure projects. "Projects left high and dry by the immediate sweep of the fund will have to seek other, often more expensive financing — so Tacoma Water ratepayers may spend more on the ongoing construction of a filtration plant on the Green River, and those in Pierce County may pay more to expand a treatment plant on Chambers Creek."

The legislature agreed to take money from the public-works account for the next six years, replenishing the account only when old projects get repaid. Sen. Ann Rivers said that had a private-sector company failed to come up with a bridge plan everyone could agree on, "there would be no forgiveness of the companies that did this." I guess Rivers sat out the bank bailout.
2. The Columbian thinks that reports of the Columbia River Crossing's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Although they allow that the project, which legislators failed to fund when they adjourned without passing a transportation funding package last weekend, is "mortally wounded," they also write, "Something must be done to improve access across the Columbia River. Be it an enhanced Interstate 5 bridge or the misguided idea of a third bridge connecting Vancouver with Portland, the future of Southwest Washington depends upon a major project's being completed." 
However, they note, it could be "years or decades" before lawmakers can agree on a path forward. Meanwhile, they threw away $850 million in federal money, and $450 million from the state of Oregon, that was sitting on the table.
(In a stunningly oblivious comment, Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18, La Center) said that had a private-sector company failed to come up with a bridge plan everyone could agree on, "there would be no forgiveness of the companies that did this." I guess Rivers missed the Wall Street bailout.) 

3. Speaking of the transportation package: Seattle Transit Blog blasts Senate Majority Coalition Caucus leader Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), who justified the legislature's decision to deny King County the option of taxing itself to preserve Metro service by saying that if roads and transit aren't tied together in a single package, roads would get "torpedoed"—in other words, roads can't succeed unless they're tied to transit.

That's an interesting flipside to the argument transit proponents made in 2007, when the infamous roads and transit package was on the ballot. At the time, transit backers said the package wouldn't pass unless it included roads; ultimately, of course, that package failed and transit passed in 2008 on its own.

Image via Community Transit.

4. Community Transit—the struggling Snohomish County bus agency that last year eliminated Sunday, holiday, and some night service, for an overall service cut of 37 percent—has somehow, despite its dire financial straits, found money to pay people who own cars not to drive.
KING-5 reports that Community Transit is offering drivers $50 gift cards if they take at least eight trips per month on the bus. Drive a bit less and Community Transit will give you $50, redeemable at REI, in ORCA card credit ... or at your local Shell or Chevron station. 
You read that right: Community Transit is paying people not to drive—by paying them to drive.

Here's a better idea: Instead of giving people carrots to encourage them to take the bus every now and then, how about restoring some of the service cuts that have so dramatically impacted people who are already taking the bus? I'm all for getting new riders onto transit, but transit agencies would be smart to show more respect for the people who already use their service before they start throwing money (and gas cards) at people who don't.
 Community Transit is paying people not to drive by paying them to drive.
5. In the second of a two-part series on his brief adventure in peer-to-peer carsharing—in this case, a service called RelayRides that allows car owners to rent out their vehicles to approved drivers—Grist's Greg Hanscomb declares the whole odyssey an abject failure. Not because the drivers trashed his car, but because the expenses—for maintenance, depreciation, and an air conditioning compressor belt that shredded while the car was being rented—added up to far more than Hanscomb and his wife could make from renting out their Subaru.
Ultimately, Hanscomb writes, he decided that carsharing wasn't worth the hassle, and is trading in his car instead—for the cargo bike of his dreams. 
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