With Transit Now and Sound Transit 2, both Metro and Sound Transit have capped out what sales tax they’re allowed to ask for – when we extend light rail again, we’re going to need a new source of income to pay for it. There are lots of options: A new MVET, tolls, part of the gas tax, a carbon tax, even a property tax. None of these are available unless authorized by the state legislature.
This won’t just be a matter of asking nicely. The Governor vetoed the option of a local vehicle license fee for transit. Chair and Vice-Chair of Senate Transportation, Senators Mary Margaret Haugen and Chris Marr, respectively, sent this letter (link removed due to a technical issue, email us if you want it) to the Governor requesting the veto. Essentially, the chairs would like local option taxes to be on the table for other “transportation modes” – like, say, highways.
The state has had little will to increase gas tax past the 2005 9.5c package, and with driving down, they’re left with a huge backlog of underfunded highway projects. They’re looking increasingly to local government to fill some of those gaps – local government that lost access to the MVET a decade ago.
This is a multi-decade trend. Transportation project funding has been shifting from primarily federal to primarily state, and now local – I can only speculate as to why, but the recent RTID package was another manifestation of the larger government failing to build the political will to fund projects, and passing the buck down to the local level. I think this letter, and the Governor’s action, is another sign that we’ll be asked to fund highways locally once again.
The problem, of course, is that at the local level and the state level, we seem to have different aims. Voters in the city want to build mass transit and increasingly a streetcar network, and want relief for overcrowded buses. Sidewalks are getting wider, excess parking is frowned upon, density in the city is slowly going up.
The state hasn’t caught up to this thinking. There is still a belief in Olympia that a wider highway will decrease congestion – there’s still a belief that congestion is something you can decrease! So several billion goes into infrastructure for cars, and virtually nothing goes into infrastructure for people.
So what do we want the next state budget to look like? What funding options do we want to build our next rail line in the city? And how do we get there? If enough of us start talking to our legislators, we can make it clear that our next transportation budget needs to look very different, but what is it that we want to say?