Morning Fizz

Sound Transit Survey Gets Political

Suspect ST3 survey, charter school victory, and big day at City Hall.

By Josh Feit April 4, 2016

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1. Props to the Seattle Times for busting Sound Transit: One of the questions on Sound Transit’s new ST3 survey asked people to rate the reasons they supported expanding light rail. The question read like the light rail agency was testing political messages to gauge which aspects of ST3 would be best to hype in the coming November ballot measure campaign for the $50 billion plan.

The Times brought the question to the attention of the Public Disclosure commission, and PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said it seemed to her that that part of the survey, question 15, violated state law prohibiting the use of public resources for campaigning.

With no formal decision from the PDC, ST elected to pull the question for now while reviewing it themselves with the PDC.

2. Governor Jay Inslee disappointed liberals on Friday by not vetoing the charters schools bill; and he disappointed Republicans by not signing it. Ultimately, though, the pro charters side gets what it wants: without Inslee’s signature the bill still becomes law.

The legislation addresses a 2015 state supreme court ruling that undid the 2012 voter approved charters measure, 1240; the court had ruled that general fund money no school construction fund money was allowed to pay for charters because those sources were only allowed to fund “common schools.” The legislation, which passed the senate 26-23 (largely along partisan lines) and the house 58-39, identified a separate source for charters—a higher education, early learning, and work-study account that’s funded by lottery dollars known as the Washington Opportunities Pathways Account.

The original bill took $18 million from the account to pay for charter schools and then dedicated $18 million from general fund to help cover programs that the Pathways Account usually covers such as the State Need Grant, College Bound Scholarship Programs, and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. However, that blatant switcheroo was stripped from the bill without addressing the MIA funding for the traditional pathways programs.

Progressives complained that legislators were caving to wealthy corporate donors; as I reported earlier this session a procharters political committee began raising money in February which included $250,000 from the Ballmers (Steve and Connie.)

But politics are complicated. One of the main funders of the original charters mandate the legislature was restoring was minimum wage hero, lefty venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who put $1 million into the 2012 campaign to help charters pass in the fist place.

Hanauer is likely to be a big donor in this year's pending statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage to $13.50.

3. It's a big day at City Hall this afternoon: There's a public hearing on mayor Ed Murray's proposed $290 million housing levy—a key part of his plan to build 20,000 affordable housing units in the next decade; Murray's plan would double the previous levy.

Watch for a fight among progressives to break out with some council members such as Rob Johnson wanting a bigger levy and others (who may certainly agree in principle) opposing any further property tax increase. Murray's proposal would cost the owner of a $480,000 home a total $122 per year.

Urbanist think tank Sightline made the case that property taxes are not the regressive bogeyman that some lefties claim, noting that Seattle's robust appreciation in property values far exceeds the proposed property tax hit. 

Also on tap this afternoon: the first meeting of the housing affordability and livability agenda working group of community members appointed to discuss the planned upzones in urban hub villages—a process that got off to a tense start earlier this year when the mayor rolled out the plan at a public meeting in January where he faced tough questions from opponents of upzones

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