Rep. Marko Liias

In the next four months, critical decisions will be made to shape the future of transportation in our region for years to come. As a policymaker committed to creating viable transportation choices, I need your help.

Pierce County voters will make the first critical decision on February 8th as they grapple with how to fund local transit infrastructure. Unlike King or Snohomish County transit systems, Pierce Transit has not fully utilized the taxing authority that the state has granted it over the years. By approving this increase and matching the transit investments of our other urban counties, voters would save current service and allow for some enhancements.

If you live in Pierce County, you can also do your part for transportation choices by voting YES on Pierce Transit’s Proposition 1. If you are like me, and don’t live in the county, but care about our regional transportation system, you can support the Yes campaign at their website.

The second major decision that will be made in the coming months is whether we take action to prevent devastating cuts to Metro service and restore some lost service in Snohomish County. I will be introducing legislation to provide these local transit agencies with some short-term revenue options to help them survive the recession.

You can find out more about this legislation, including the bill number and the details, by following me on Facebook or Twitter. We are still working through the final legislative details; expect the bill to be introduced later this month.

Finally, the Legislature will continue grappling with the challenges of funding long-term investments in transportation, and this discussion will take time to develop. Across the state, our infrastructure is aging and our declining gas tax revenues are not keeping up. We need a 21st century transportation policy with sustainable funding.

You can help advocate for transportation choices and real investments in transit by reaching out to the many transportation advocates we are blessed with in this region. Transportation Choices Coalition is a good place to start, but there are many good organizations that need active supporters.

The future of our region depends on whether we can muster the political will to create a connected and diverse transportation system to mirror our connected and diverse society. I am proud to be pro-choice, transportation and otherwise!

Representative Marko Liias serves Washington’s 21st district, and is a vice chair of the House Transportation Committee.

26 Replies to “Op-ed: I Am Pro-Choice, Transportation and Otherwise”

  1. In my view, “transit” problems are tax problems.

    Washingtonians do not pay fair and equitable property taxes and hence, want more than they pay for. Also, whenever some needed project appears, it generates a slue of calls for income taxes, sales taxes, fees and other chicanery to take even more money from people receiving the least benefit.

    California is an even worse case of this problem.

    Reform the property taxes and get the transit, education and police protection appropriate for the nation’s 6th largest state.

  2. I agree with you that Washingtonians generally want more than they pay for. Eastern Washington residents have been subsidized for far too long – levy equalization, road construction, that damn ferry over the river that is paid for from state taxes, not user fees or county specific taxes.

    It’s about time we ask other areas to start pulling their own weight.

    1. Frankly, I think the puget sound counties should just secede from the rest of the state. That would help them budget wise (since taxes have a net flow from the seattle area to eastern washington), and there wouldn’t really be many drawbacks—what does eastern washington provide the puget sound region?

      In fact, if it wasn’t for the conservative leanings of the eastern counties, we could pass the policies that we actually want, like privatized liquor sales or gas tax changes that allow the taxes to be used comprehensively.

      1. “[W]hat does eastern washington provide the puget sound region?”

        Food and energy. Nothing important. OK, we probably get more food from California (though I’m not sure about that), and it’s not like they’re going to stop selling food or transmitting electricty, but the reality is that Eastern Washington provides a lot to Western Washington.

        What they don’t provide is proportional tax revenue, particularly for roads. I don’t think secession is the answer, even if it might be more rational for the Columbia River basin to be a separate state from Puget Sound, but there’s a lot we can do short of that to bring more equity to the system.

      2. Conservatives are generally more in favor of privatization than liberals. In fact, the only counties that voted in favor of either liquor privatization measure were Kitsap, Douglas and Mason, the former two of which also supported Rossi over Murray.

    2. Often I’ve wondered if I’m the only resident of Eastern Washington to regularly follow this blog. I think I have my answer…

      All I want to say is that there are like-minded individuals such as you guys that do live on this side of the Cascades. Please don’t forget that.

  3. Cascadian: I love Eastern Washington and I buy local food from that part of the state even though it is often more expensive and not organic because I want to support my local farmers. I’m just tired of their collective complaining and ignorant assumption that they somehow pay for our ferries or light rail.

    It was also disheartening to hear during the Murray/Rossi debate a few months ago that few people in Eastern Washington understand that the dams and irrigation systems that they live off of were developed by New Deal “socialist” programs. As an aside, I support levy equalization for schools in poorer districts assuming they understand that they get far more than they give in taxes.

    1. I agree. There really is a general failure of the American right to acknowledge how much more dependent on the state most conservative areas of the country are. I don’t know if it arises from ignorance or brainwashing or both. Splitting the state — though I’d be fine with it — would cause a constitutional crisis and isn’t going to happen.

      I would, however, cheerfully vote for a measure that required regional or county-level parity in infrastructure and welfare spending, with exceptions for education and emergency services. I’m tired of the anti-gubmint nonsense that keeps wafting over the Cascades, and I just don’t want to hear it any more.

      1. I would also love it if someone in the state’s legislature (uh hum Marko Liis) would put forth a bill requiring that taxes raised are spent in the same county with possible issue by issue exceptions. Mostly just to hear the debate because I’d put money on the fact that Republicans would love the idea until they realize how screwed they’d be if it went through. That might, might just start to change their tune.

  4. The taxing for transit around here is grossly excessive as is.

    How about explaining why the taxing for transit here is so much worse than elsewhere, before trying to tax more for it?

    Take the ST financing plan – it relies far more on regressive taxing than anywhere else because it involves pledging to collect tax at or near the maximum rate during the next 42 years or so, just as security for bonds.

    That’s an abusive way to finance transit – nobody else does that and here’s this tax pimp calling for more taxing!

    Anyone disagree with the following: “Here they plan to build 50-some miles of light rail using a financing plan that targets poor people and families with exceedingly heavy regressive taxes. The plan is to spend about $18 billion on capital costs. Those capital costs are to be paid by a financing scheme that will require about $85 billion in regressive tax confiscations to secure $8 billion in new long term bonds. Those tax confiscations are to continue through about 2052.”

    Compare those numbers to the comparable figures from other regions. The financing of transit here is abusive any way you look at it.

    Light rail is great in other places because it’s financed the right way. Locals don’t have to pay much (if anything) for it. For one thing the government managers here are doing an exceedingly poor job of leveraging grants to minimize the local tax impacts (maybe $6.5 billion in grants will be used, in comparison to $85 billion in new local taxing). Most light rail gets paid for by 40% – 50% federal grants.

    TriMet’s model is vastly superior. People here and in Portland wanted trains and buses. Here though the “hammer poor people and the economy unnecessarily” financing scheme is being employed.

    The light rail in Portland has come on line gradually, and federal funds covered a lot of the costs. A public/private partnership was used recently for an extension. Here though less than 10% of the $100 billion financing plan for the $18 billion in capital spending ST is launching into would be grant money – a FAR lower percentage than its peers.

    The following describes how TriMet finances its top-quality bus system (along with better light rail construction and operations than what we have): . There’s a TIP document they have down there that also provides good information and makes what is going on here look like abusive dimwits set it up. TriMet never has imposed regressive taxes targeting people and individuals. Metro and ST sure do. Here are three notable differences:

    – Progressive taxing of businesses there vs. heavy regressive taxing targeting families and individuals here.

    – A couple of billion dollars of a reasonable mix of federal grant money and progressive tax revenues used to build out a 50-some mile light rail system there vs. a $100 billion mostly-regressive local tax revenue package to pay for the same number of miles of track, and fewer stations here.

    – $0 direct regressive taxing targeting individuals and families for bus and train service there vs. $455 per year direct regressive taxing on the average family for bus and train service here, and that amount will grow every year for decades.

    We’re getting the shaft. Was the transit financing scheme here designed by sociopaths, or sadists? That’s the kind of mindset that rolls out a 50-mile light rail financing plan calling for $8 billion in bonds to be secured by $85 billion in tax confiscations between now and 2052.

    Metro, Sound Transit, and the transit governments in Pierce and Snohomish counties expect to haul in something on the order of $1.3 billion in local tax revenue this year, the vast majority of which will be sales tax revenue. All their peers do a great job providing good bus service and expanding train systems for their people and businesses with far less annual local tax revenue:

    – TriMet (Portland) – $233 million;

    – DART (Dallas/Fort Worth) – $385 million;

    – San Diego Metropolitan Transit System – $100 million; and

    – RTID (Denver) – $241 million.

    Anybody have any insight into why transit financing up here is abusive? There are no safeguards to protect taxpayers. Maybe the tax pimp wants to explain why that is?

    The excessive transit taxing and spending programs here in comparison to peer regions are a big problem. They cause financial harm to people and the local economy. Why are the government managers like Liias performing so poorly in that regard?

    1. It’s not Metro’s fault that they only have a handful of revenue-raising options, most of them regressive. Washington’s entire revenue model is built on sales tax — go complain to Olympia.

      1. “It’s not Metro’s fault that they only have a handful of revenue-raising options, most of them regressive.”


        Go back and read my post. The amount of taxing for transit is far higher here than in peer regions. I gave four examples. The fact that Metro can’t perform adequately with far less tax revenue is great evidence it is poorly managed.

        More significantly, I am “complaining to Olympia” — Marko Liias is a vice chair of the House Transportation Committee.

        Why did Olympia give so much taxing authority to bus and train service providers – far more than their peer have? Why is it the most regressive kind of taxing? Why didn’t Olympia impose any taxpayer protection terms to guard against excessive taxing by ST? Why in God’s name did Marko and his colleagues give unchecked taxing power over 2.7 million people to a bunch of political appointees?

      2. I already read your post once. It reads like a scattershot rant that doesn’t inspire particularly thoughtful response. You are directing your ire towards Metro and ST, as if they sit around cackling at the thought of shafting poor people. If that’s not what you meant to express, consider rephrasing what you wrote.

        Metro’s cost per revenue hour is indeed slightly higher than peer agencies; that’s a problem. Metro’s funding sources are highly unstable; that’s another. Those problems are only tangentially related.

        One financial issue fairly unique to ST is that ST is building a very expensive initial light rail segment while also maintaining a pretty expensive regional bus system. For example Metro Light Rail in Phoenix was $1.4 billion for 20 miles; that’s less than U-Link alone. Of course, Phoenix has basically built a fast streetcar with signal priority; we’re building a small subway — vastly better in the long run.

    2. The problem is taxing in this state *overall* is regressive and heavily dependent on sales taxes. There are no state or local income taxes. The recent income tax for healthcare and education initiative was soundly rejected. Motor vehicle excise taxes that used to fund roads and transit were cut significantly when the Legislature chose to uphold I-695 after it was struck down by the courts. If I recall correctly they also raised the sales tax authority for transit agencies at the same time to allow votes to increase transit sales taxes make up for lost revenue.

      There is a silver lining in the funding crisis. It forces agencies to rethink how they are spending money and how they deliver service.

      1. “The recent income tax for healthcare and education initiative was soundly rejected. Motor vehicle excise taxes that used to fund roads and transit were cut significantly when the Legislature chose to uphold I-695 after it was struck down by the courts. ”

        I’m generally in favor of shifting taxes toward a progressive tax from the regressive sales tax, but I voted against the income tax initiative because of the siloing of the revenue collected. This state has too many dedicated revenue sources; there’s a bucket of revenue and a bucket of expenses. Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the legistature and the administration to allocate revenues to cover expenses?

      2. That’s an interesting and valid reason for voting no. The writers of I-1098, dedicated the taxes on purpose, likely to assure voters that politicians cannot raid the funds for other projects. Some people I know who voted no, said they would’ve voted yes had it substituted state income tax for a state sales tax, not add more taxes.

      3. would’ve voted yes had it substituted state income tax for a state sales tax, not add more taxes.

        Count me in that camp. The only thing is, I’d like to see the State per gallon gas tax replaced with the standard sales tax. But that’s not likely to happen any time soon. But some sort of index to inflation has to happen.

      4. +1. I held my nose and voted for I-1098, but I thought the same thing. We have a perfectly good example of state with no sales tax taxes right on our southern border. Maybe once this teabagging mania is over we could get that on the ballot.

        One genuinely tricky part would be mapping the local and regional sales tax rates to income tax rates. Overestimating on the high side would lead to howls of backdoor tax increases, and on the low side could accidentally cause more budget wreckage.

      5. I think abolishing all sales tax is risky and too big an action to do in a single step. Start with the state’s portion of the sales tax. Then follow with the many sales tax enabling statutes, one at a time, if it makes sense. I doubt we’ll ever get rid of all consumption taxes though.

      6. I’d be OK with that. In fact I think by law many local sales taxes would have to remain because they are already committed to paying off bond debt. There are a couple of good things about sales tax. One it’s easy to collect. Two, although strictly it’s a consumption tax and not a sales tax you can shape behavior with targeted user fees (like the gas tax, cigarette taxes, etc.). I’m fine with leaving those in place which I guess brings up the loophole of the State just tacking on fees to everything except industries (like auto dealers) that can buy influence. I’m just not OK with becoming like CA which has a higher sales tax than WA, a higher income tax than OR and it still broke. I know part of the CA problem was prop 13 regarding property taxes but that was a tax payer revolt over the State grabbing the windfall of a real estate boom and spending like there was no tomorrow.

      7. I think California’s problem is mostly due (in no particular order) to (a) Prop 13, (b) a pathologically stupid budget process, (c) egregious gerrymandering resulting in almost no competitive districts, (d) decades of economic boom that forestalled difficult fiscal choices and (e) an incredibly powerful public-sector labor movement that has hiked pay and benefits with utter disregard for the public’s ability to pay.

        I would agree, too, with Oran about the silver lining of this recession. Whatever public services and infrastructure make it through intact will be able to withstand anything. We just have to get them through the next few years.

    3. Every tax dollar collected by Sound Transit was voter approved, the same is true of Metro and Community Transit. Now, the mix of revenue sources was decided long before I arrived in the Legislature, so I can’t pretend to defend the heavy reliance on sales tax in particular. We do need more progressive revenue options as we move forward, I agree.

      Now, I will just say that using transit more has helped me trim a few pounds over the last year, so to all the other overweight transit fans out there, get on the bus/train/light rail!

      1. I think your first sentence says all that needs to be said in response to OTF, John Bailo, Norman, etc.

        We are taxed b/c we want to be taxed.

        We are spending large amounts on first class infrastructure b/c we want a first class system.

        Yes, there are improvements that can be made, both between agencies and within. But, if there is to be a silver lining to this recession, it’s that it appears some?/alot?/most? of these improvements are being put into place.

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