Sen. Scott White (N. Seattle)

[UPDATE: As a commenter points out, Frank Chopp  never sponsors bills of any substance, so his absence from the list isn’t notable.]

[UPDATE 2: I didn’t read the bill correctly. Numerous revisions below, plus a correction in the next post.]

[UPDATE 3: 5 more representatives have been added to the sponsorship list. Just go to the website.]

Sen. Scott White (D-46, North Seattle) is rapidly emerging as the pro-transit star of the Senate. PubliCola reports that he joined with transit stalwart Rep. Marko Liias (D-11, Edmonds), 10 other Senators, and 14 9 other Representatives to introduce bills HB 2016 and SB 5874, a part of Futurewise and Transportation Choices Coalition’s new Transportation for Washington campaign.

Both bills would expand the taxing options for Transit agencies beyond the vehicle license fee and sales tax, but for transit purposes only. The list of tools that would be available to local jurisdictions and voters:

  • for TBDs, tolling, which already was allowed but with some procedural obstacles removed;
  • a vehicle excise tax based on fuel efficiency;
  • partial repeal of the sales tax exemption for gasoline to fund transit;
  • a motor vehicle excise tax, based on the value of the vehicle and therefore more progressive than a straight license fee.

I can’t believe this has great chances so late in the session, but if it passes this year or in 2012, it absolutely changes the game for cash-strapped transit agencies the big Seattle transit ballot measure that might appear that year. Serious city-funded rail investment is suddenly in scope with all of these tools, limited only by the willingness of voters and the timidity of the City Council.

At times we criticize the Seattle-area delegation for largely being AWOL on transit issues, so I applaud them for showing up in force on the sponsorship list. If you live in these districts (below the jump) let these legislators know you applaud their continued efforts to make this happen.

Who’s absent: Republicans (predictably, but sadly), anyone at all from the Eastside, and Speaker Frank Chopp, representing the densest, most pro-transit district in the State.

District 1 (Bothell/Mountlake Terrace): Luis Moscoso

District 3 (Spokane): Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby

District 11 (Renton/Tukwila): Margarita Prentice

District 21 (Edmonds): Marko Liias

District 22 (Olympia): Karen Fraser, Sam Hunt and Chris Reykdal

District 23 (Bainbridge Island): Sherry Appleton

District 29 (S. Tacoma/Lakewood/Parkland): Steve Conway

District 32 (Shoreline/Kenmore): Maralyn Chase and Cindy Ryu

District 33 (Kent/Seatac/Des Moines): Karen Keiser

District 34 (W. Seattle/Burien/Vashon): Joe Fitzgibbon and Sharon Nelson

District 36 (Ballard/Queen Anne): Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Reuven Carlyle.

District 37 (CD/Rainier Valley/Skyway): Adam Kline and Eric Pettigrew

District 38 (Everett/Marysville): Nick Harper and John McCoy

District 43 (Capitol Hill/U-District): Ed Murray and Jamie Pedersen.

District 46 (N. Seattle): Scott White and David Frockt

District 49 (Vancouver): Jim Moeller

31 Replies to “New Pro-Transit Bill Would Change the Game”

  1. From HB2016:

    NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. (1) The governing body of any public transportation agency may submit an authorizing proposition to the voters and, if approved, […], impose a vehicle license fee, which may vary according to the miles traveled by the vehicle […]

    So… this bill would authorize VMT taxes?

    1. I haven’t read the whole bill but wouldn’t be surprised if VMT were included. It is the wave of the future. (Aside: I believe VMT is currently being studied in both OR and WA as part of the electric vehicle initiatives, for example.) As a pro-transit person, it’s hard for me not to support VMT. After all, it wouldn’t affect me much. And it does fold nicely into one of the major goals of mass transit – getting cars off the road (by making them less appealing).

      1. VMT feels like a step in the wrong direction for me. Unless you want to write off interstate (small-i) travel, you’re obligated to track individual vehicles. That’s an intrusion many people, including myself, are simply unwilling to make.

        An odometer-based mileage tax is more palatable, but unfair to those who frequently travel out of state. Then again, the populations affected by the TBD are less likely to be performing frequent out-of-state trips. Plus it requires periodic inspections.

        Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it should receive tacit approval. I don’t own a car, but I’m still concerned about this trend toward VMT, especially if it’s used with the intent of punishing drivers. A free, usable road network is important. Auto-dependence is the enemy, not the drivers themselves.

        Well, except that one driver named Kemper Freeman.

      2. Good luck getting the majority of Americans to support government mandated GPS units in every private vehicle. Are you insane? That would never ever happen.

  2. Apparently BOTH the reps from the 43rd are AWOL on this. I have just emailed both these clowns indicating my support for this bill and anyone who lives there should do the same.

    1. Done. With a hasty run-on sentence.

      Reps. Pedersen and Chopp:

      I’m disappointed to note you both missing on the list of sponsors for HB 2016, considering I chose to buy my home in the 43rd in large part due to the opportunity to live without a car afforded by not just location and density, but by accessibility of transit.

      Please join Senator Murray in supporting this effort to progress beyond the auto-centric planning of the 20th century.

      1. I think it’s OK for some legislators, like Jamie Pedersen, to not focus on transportation issues. But Chopp is very much involved in transportation and should have supported this.

      2. I still want Pedersen on this bill. His district is the center of most current and proposed transit construction going on in this state. Even if he’s not leading the charge, there’s no reason he can’t co-sponsor.

      3. Bruce: Jamie can’t sponsor this. His firm (K&L Gates) would do the bond financings, so it would be an appearance of conflict of interest.

    2. Done. It ain’t pretty, but it’s sent.

      I just read that you have the opportunity to support a bill (HB 2016 and/or SB 5847) that would make it much easier for PNW WA cities to fund mass transit projects but are not currently on the list of supporters. This is profoundly disappointing to me because a major reason I live in your district is the multiple alternative transit options I have. Given the state of traffic/gridlock in this area, the limited resources to fix it, and the benefits of reducing carbon emissions through encouraging use of mass transit, I strongly encourage you to support these measures. Please look beyond our current auto-centric planning schemes and failed roadways and instead look toward a future with a world-class mass transit system linking our major boroughs and cities making the PNW more livable and attractive to both new residents and businesses.

  3. “Both bills would expand the taxing options for Transportation Benefit Districts”

    Wouldn’t Metro and Sound Transit be able to use these new options as well? They are “public transportation agenc[ies]”.

    1. TBDs and PTAs are totally different, so no. TBDs are created by municipalities.

  4. I wanted to clear the record on Rep. Pedersen. He did sign onto the bill last night, it just wasn’t reflected on the bill website till today. Rep. Appleton, Rep. Carlyle, Rep. McCoy, Rep. Frockt, and Rep. Pedersen all signed on last night or today.

  5. I don’t think the VMT tax is very workable; there are too many questions to be asked about how to implement it right now. Privacy is a big concern, but how do you record mileage and send it in? The honor system? What about vehicles that don’t have odometers, or have hub odometers? How do you address the few people that will turn back the odometer or misreport? I don’t want a GPS tracking device in my vehicles, but i like the idea, so long as it replaces all the existing taxes and fees. (Start of rant) I hate teabagger politics; however they do have a valid point to be made. Quite frankly, these idiots we elect in Olympia need to stop patching this sh*t together and sit down and find a workable solution for the next 60 or 100 years! Rep Illias helped cost PT Proposition 1, with his funding patch for the license tab fees for transit, which in the end PT can’t even use! This constant patching together of problems needs to stop, and the slate cleared (of everything, gas tax, gas sales tax, ST MVET, Weight fees, etc.) and the taxation structure needs to be redesigned (of course it will probably cost us more but we need the investments) to be more streamlined, fair, practical, and SUSTAINABLE. /end of rant

  6. A simply form of VMT – with no distinction on roadways used – could be very easily implemented in Washington. I don’t really understand why there’s so much hesitation from a process viewpoint.

    We already require most vehicles to have their emissions checked every two years. Why not simply have those providers also be trained to submit documentation of the odometer reading?

    We only need transponders and to wrestle with privacy issues if you want to tax differently for use on highways vs. arterials vs. local streets.

    1. Its a lot more complicated than that. Emissions testing is not state wide, nor covers every vehicle. After x amount of years you no longer need emissions testing, how do you perform the VMT than? Also, how do you prevent fraud (rollback), handle vehicles without built in odometers, or have ones that can be easily removed (like hubodometers), handle replacement of the odometer etc. Plus, i think we need more than a stop gap for our transportation funding. IF we choose the VMT method, than exisitng weight fees, MVETs, etc should be removed and replaced with VMT. the VMT formula could be based on Weight+Miles travelled which would be a fair formula for trucks registered in this state, of course than how do you handle out of state trucks which than may have an advantage over trucks based in the state of washington.

      1. That’s actually pretty easy. We have the weigh stations in place and most trucks have the transponder technology installed to do “drive by” weighing. Really, it’s the over heavy trucks that do the most damage without paying.

      2. Thats possible i wonder how well that would hold up in court if they would consider it a restraint on interstate commerce

      3. Correct, No other state in the union has a VMT type Tax. There are some things on the commerical side for IFTA and prorating fuel taxes depending on which state(s) were travelled in.

  7. I think that many voters will be confused if presented with an array of choices, or a choice that’s unfamiliar to them such as VMT, which should be replacing gas tax revenue as it declines (and back-dated for at least several years). The problem with the legislation is that, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t any accountability added, such as requiring them to have on their websites: audio or video of all Board meetings, all staff reports, salaries and benefits of all top officials, details of major expenditures (on-time, on-budget, if not-why not, for instance those at least 1% of revenues), organizational charts. Many who are so willing to send more money without accountability assume that these entities are prudent with their money and would be surprised what they learned.

    1. It was pointed out to me today that sound transit is pretty transparent with ridership reports and the like while the local agencys are not much so. Probally would require another fte or two for the local agencies to be that way but i think it would be an fte well spent

  8. Much better than a VMT would be an integrated car insurance / transit pass, where you could “swipe” your car into “not in motion” for 24 hrs, and have the benefit of a transit pass. Levy an insurance premium across an urban area having an adequate transit alternative. This would desensitize the issue of a new tax (rather you would simply see a X% increase in premium), and would offer the perk of choice in transportation. The Seattle tech community can surely create the infrastructure.
    It would be even easier to launch here in Vancouver, where we have an activist gov owned car insurance monopoly.
    For many, once you’re paying $4-6/day for car insurance, there’s little incentive to pay the same again for the bus – which would otherwise be the logical choice of many people several days a week.

  9. Regarding accessibility of Metro’s ridership information:
    I find Metro’s ridership reports to be accessible through the king county regional transit committee and or the county council. the clerk of the council or the rtc staff or the metro service and scheduling people will give it to you if you ask them. whether this is as easy to access as sound transit’s stuff, I don’t know, but I think metro is also currently working on publishing these very stats more widely–not sure exactly where.

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