This quote from state Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond, as noted by Zach in the comments has me a little worried:

But state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the state money can’t be used for increases in Metro bus service that are part of the surface-transit package, because the state constitution requires gas taxes to go toward highways.

“There’s been no decision on, if transit service is part of the package, how that gets paid for,” she said.

That’s pretty worrying.

10 Replies to “Paula Hammond: State Can’t Pay For Transit”

  1. Now would be a good time for the City of Seattle to look towards the Stimulus Package…Considering that several other cities have light-rail, streetcar, BRT, and rail projects are already on there….

  2. The City of Seattle (and King County) doesn’t use nearly all of its own taxation authority, so the flexibility is there, especially for priority or specialty transit (transit lanes, Streetcars). The difficulty is expressing that option until a final decision is made.

    Levies and LID funds will increase potency in the Downtown Core as the population increases– you have at least $130,000,000 of property in 1521 Second alone, something like $75,000,000 in Escala and these aren’t even occupied. The leash is long enough, Nickels and Sims merely have them close to their chest.

    Finally, I must point out that losing WaMu does little for taxation– they already got a really REALLY nice deal from the city, county and state.

  3. She made the same statements on KUOW today.

    Problem is: I don’t believe they are true.

    I know gas tax revenues cannot be used for transit. But the Transportation Partnership package passed by the legislature a couple years ago, and defended with the failure of I-912, included other assorted fees. I am not sure, but I believe those funds are un-restricted. I think the WSDOT uses non-fuel excise taxes to fund the state rail program, for instance.

    Of course, 2007’s Prop. 1 vote included a massive amount of transit spending, as negotiated into the RTID, since that package would have depended on MVET and .1 sales tax – not the Constitutionally protected gas tax. But the voters turned that one down. Which was a big mistake, given Metro’s current budget problems.

    Ron Sims basically committed political & transit suicide helping kill last year’s Prop. 1.

    1. She is fudging, sorta– through her office, Clark County and the state are ponying up cash to assist in getting MAX across the CRC.

  4. Can’t funds for road projects coming from the gas tax go for project impact mitigation? Part of the idea behind the transit improvements is to provide an alternate route while the viaduct is being torn down.

  5. Why can’t she try to be like BC’s Kevin Falcon, who (at leasts) tries to balance the needs of roads and transit?

    And does the state constitution really say something like that?

  6. Yes, I’m afraid it does Ted.

    This policy began as a Referendum to the People in 1944; this Battle of the Bulge era law came at a time when highways were considered the future, and suburbanization was the MO of urban planning. The state was merely trying to find a dedicated revenue stream for this new mode of transportation, and I assume the islands were able to fight for ferries to be included. Soon afterwards, the federal government started pouring massive amounts of money into the interstate highway system and similar projects….up to 90% of the total project cost.

    To say the “skids were greased” would be a gross understatement.

    I feel very strongly that it is time to change this state law, but not because it would bring any revenue boost to ST (the total pool of funds for capital transportation projects is simply too small to make a difference in a program of that size). Rather, I think it would 1)boost streetcar systems in cities and towns across the state, 2)possibly help with track improvements for commuter rail and Amtrack, and 3)perhaps most importantly, simply make the DOT agnostic on transportation mode preferences, and thus give us a willing collaborator on transportation projects that might include rail.

    If the DOT’s constitutional mandate effectively limits it to roads and ferries, then it reasons that they will hire people most familiar with roads and ferries, that the organizational culture will become centered around the two, and all other options/solutions will be ignored.

    Think what it would be like to have a DOT that comes to the table with an open mind-and key technical expertise on all transportation modes, including rail-when communities have to make decisions like those regarding the Viaduct or 520.

    And the important thing to realize is that this is not a King County problem; it’s not a metro Seattle problem. This law and its effect on the DOT is impacting communities across the state. I’ve heard that Everett at one point was considering a downtown streetcar circulator, similar with Spokane. For some reason rail seems to have an urban connotation, but we know from our own history (as well as contemporary examples in Europe and Asia) that rail works in various forms for small cities and small towns as well. Where would the City of Everett turn to for technical expertise and planning, in lieu of an “absent” DOT? The same applies to other towns, like Pullman, Yakima, Port Angeles, Wenatchee, or Gray’s Harbor…

    I think the time is right for us to fix this, once and for all.

    1. Wow, what a bummer….thanks Zach.

      Yes, I believe “it is time for change.”

      Imagine what we as an entire state could accomplish with state funding for transit. Spokane could finally get their long-awaited light rail line (I remember seeing a video of the proposed line with TOD). We in Seattle could dramatically expand transit service. We as an entire state could do so much!

      Like I said earlier, just look north…

  7. Ted, I saw something interesting on Global BC last night about some revenue proposals to fund transit expansion in Vancouver. THey even proposed Cell Phone Taxes, and I think that might be going too far. Tax Increment Financing, regional sales taxes(in Canada that is a big can of worms, sometimes tax is charged on taxes under that system), and tolls. Falcon has short-term worries. Unlike the Federal Government in Canada, the Premier cannot just simply porogue the legislature to avoid a no-confidence vote.(He has a majority). BC has an election coming up, and unlike the other provinces and the Canadian Federal Government, they know when it is going to be, in May. The pre-election dissolution of the Legislature is now just a formality.(Might change if a third party gets into Victoria). I am not sure if the people up there are still upset on the Carbon Tax.

  8. A little silliness here.

    The new bus service will be needed whichever option is chosen. By the time construction is finished the new service will be as able to stand on its own two feet as any other service.

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