Morning Fizz

Good News and Real Bad News for Sound Transit

Caffeinated News featuring the Republican transportation package.

By Josh Feit February 12, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. Details are coming in about the state senate transportation package (likely to be unveiled by the Republican leaders today or tomorrow), including the good news for Sound Transit that the proposal signs off on ST taxing authority and the bad news for Sound Transit— that it limits it to $11 billion. Sound Transit lobbyists had asked for $15 billion, which they say they need to expand the current system to Tacoma and Everett and Redmond while also building more connections—say West Seattle to downtown Seattle or Ballard to downtown Seattle—within Seattle itself.

Call it the "Stick-it-to-Seattle" clause Pt. 2.

The operating principle on the regional ST board is that extending the ST "spine" from Tacoma to Everett to Redmond is the priority, which means with any less than $15 billion in authority Seattle voters might be looking at an ST3 package next year that falls far short of their expectations, creating a downward political spiral for ST which could end up creating a losing 2016 ballot measure. (Like they were with Metro funding authority, in previous transportation package negotiations, the Democrats' need for ST funding gave the GOP serious leverage.)

Seattle voters might be looking at an ST3 package next year that falls far short of their expectations, creating a downward political spiral for Sound Transit. "The problem that I'm worried about," ST board member Mike O'Brien told me a few weeks ago as the negotiations in Olympia got underway, "is it doesn't give us the authority we're asking for ... they say, 'That's too much!' and they only give us this much. And all of a sudden we can't get to Tacoma and Everett. And Seattle has a smaller pool and all of a sudden you're picking off between [Ballard and West Seattle] ... and elected leaders aren't as excited about it, and residents are like, 'Why would I pay for this if it doesn't get to where I want to go?' So, please legislature give us the [full] authority we're asking for ... because hopefully we can figure out that that serves the greater good."

In more bad news for transit fans: Only about six percent of the total senate transportation proposal is reportedly dedicated to multimodal projects, a drop from 10 percent in the previous working proposals. (The Democratic house passed a $10 billion transportation package in 2013, which put about 10 percent toward multimodal projects, ie, pedestrian, transit, and biking projects. The Republican senate never passed a package, though they talked about a $12 billion deal with only two percent dedicated to multimodal projects.)

Here's what I'm hearing bout their proposal overall this time: In addition to crimped sound transit authority, the roughly $11.5 billion 11.7 cents gas tax package includes about $8 billion for new roads, $1.4 billion for road maintenance, and $750 million for multimodal projects. And in another poison pill for progressives, the deal ties the multimodal dollars to a provision that says Gov. Jay Inslee cannot use executive authority to greenlight low carbon fuel standards (something he's been considering as part of his separate greenhouse gas reduction plan). If he does, the GOP says, all the multimodal money automatically turns into roads money.

The Republicans' insistence on reforms, such us earmarking all transportation project sales tax revenue for transportation spending rather than for the general fund (which would sabotage the general fund Democrats say) and forgoing union prevailing wage standards on transportation projects, have been unbundled from the $11.5 billion package and proposed as separate pieces of legislation, which could give the Democrats a bit more leverage in other debates. 

A note on the ST taxing authority: It requires voter approval (it's a brand new 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax; an 0.5 percent sales tax for the majority of the money; and an 0.8 percent motor vehicle excise tax or MVET), which leaves me wondering: Why isn't the anti-tax GOP, who routinely point out that voters have said no to new taxes, requiring the same voter approval  for the 11.7 cent gas tax on the roads heavy transportation package overall?

And that raises another question: How many GOP senators will actually vote for this "GOP" tax proposal? Will it require Democratic votes to send the underwhelming package to the house. 

2. Speaking of "Sticking-it-to-Seattle" clauses: the Republicans are back with another bill to squash the waterfront tunnel. This time, riffing off the transportation package, they're introducing legislation today that would prevent any revenue from the gas tax package from paying for the tunnel project. The legislation, which actually picked up a number co-sponsors as opposed to their lonely earlier bill to stop the tunnel project altogether, also reiterates the state's $2.4 billion tunnel spending cap (and the original "Stick-it-to-Seattle" clause that requires Seattle to pay for any cost overruns).

The bill states:

If a new revenue package is passed by the legislature after January 1, 2015, the department may not expend any funds from the new revenue package on the state route number 99 Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project. The department may not expend more than the maximum amount for the state contribution provided in RCW 47.01.402(6)(b).

All 15 co-sponsors are still Republicans, however. (I'm including co-sponsor senator Tim Sheldon, D-35, Potlatch, who caucuses with the GOP). 

3. I tweeted about this yesterday, but I'll report it here in Fizz to make it official,  just as longtime Nick Licata aide Lisa Herbold formalized it herself yesterday: The policy stickler lefty is running for city council in the first district (West Seattle).

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