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On Saturday the Washington State House passed a modified version of ESB 6582,  the modified text of which is encapsulated in this Marko Liias striking amendment. The final vote was 53 to 43 (roll call here), compared to 25-24 in the Senate  for a slightly different bill. A number of Eastside moderates voted against the measure.

Here are the key provisions:

  • Counties can levy a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax of up to 1% with voter approval. There is language requiring counties to work with their transit agencies and component cities in crafting the measure, for those with differing governing boards. In King County’s case, a source tells me it is nearly inconceivable that Metro’s long-term deficit is not healed by the measure; whether the remainder goes to cities, Metro, or county road needs is up to the negotiations between stakeholders.
  • County gas tax authority changes from 10% of the state gas tax to a flat 3 cents per gallon; currently, King County does not use this authority. In addition, the City of Seattle gets a one-cent authority, which would raise about $4.5m annually for transportation. Both taxes require a public vote.
  • Transportation Benefit Districts other than Seattle increase the vehicle license fee that does not require a public vote from $20 to $40, with voter-approved limit still at $100. My source, familiar with the legislature, says that this change is an effort to help out DOTs in strongly anti-tax jurisdictions, while the Seattle exclusion reflects that Seattle voters arguably refuted the idea of larger vehicle license fee last November.
  • An entirely new section allows very large TBDs to spend some of their revenue on affordable housing over transit stations; it also frees all transit agencies of the requirement to obtain fair market value on surplus property and airspace rights as long as it is sold for an affordable housing purpose.

“The Senate bill as amended by the House provides the authority counties must have to address our local transportation needs,” King County Executive Dow Constantine told STB. “I urge the Senate to concur with the House amendments and move it quickly to the Governor for signature so we can start work with our partners on how best to allocate this resource.”

I’m not wild about diverting scarce TBD money to subsidize housing, but all-in-all this is a wonderful bill that can solve the immediate problems of the state’s bus systems. The allocation of funds in King County will be interesting; at a minimum, it will stabilize Metro’s service level, but at best it might trigger a series of capital investments that absorb traffic diversion from the deep bore tunnel, improve bus efficiency,  and bring RapidRide up to a more rigorous BRT standard.

45 Replies to “Transit and Transportation Revenue Bill Passes House”

  1. I’m liking what I see in this bill. I especially like the idea of subsidized low-income housing near and over stations. What concerns me is the details of how “affordable workforce housing” is defined.

    The housing has to be rented out to individuals or families who make between 30% and 80% of the median income in the county. There is no actual limit on the rent. So, in practice, developers get the subsidy, and charge as much as they can find people willing to pay for the housing. You might think people could get evicted for getting a raise, but in practice that just leads to the rent getting jacked up. The rent may be less than elsewhere, it requires someone in the unit to have a job (which cuts a lot of seniors out, depending on whether they have an income or are living off a nestegg), but it is not guaranteed to be truly affordable, especially for those eligible to live in it.

    I wouldn’t mind the area above a station being totally commercial, but it’s nice to have some of the property near a station (e.g. that which was used as construction staging area, and is then surplused) be converted to MIXED-USE, with affordable housing on the upper floors. I wish the definition of affordable housing would come with a limit on the rent, so that it would become affordable.
    .

    * In fairness to John Fox, I must credit him with repeatedly raising the issue of affordable housing not being required to be affordable, even if we do disagree ardently on densification and transit issues.

    1. A little personal history with John Fox. In 1984, I think, the King County Democratic convention presented a topic for debate: “Resolved: We Oppose the Metro Tunnel.”

      I was a delegate, and a part-time driver of a couple years seniority. Since Metro sent no one to defend its project from an unprecedented attack on an electric transit project in its own municipality by an organization of the Democratic Party, I volunteered.

      John’s main argument was that money spent on the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was essentially being stolen from programs for the poor- as if not building the Tunnel guaranteed that every cent not used would go directly to poor people, who would get nothing from the Tunnel.

      No hard feelings about decisively losing the subsequent vote. Was later told I would have gotten more support if I had been more emphatic about the eventual conversion of the Tunnel to rail- a fair criticism.

      But the justice of John’s chosen causes doesn’t earn him any credit for his decades-long conviction every large and energetic civic endeavor is something to be opposed. This mentality is probably the thing I hate worst about Seattle, because it negates so much of the potential that this city’s clean government and educated populace have earned it.

      More than the terrain and the lack of right-of-way, this spirit of reaction in the name of progressive liberalism is the reason our transit system is still so far behind less-deserving places.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Extremely well-put. Some people in our city would rather protect a woman’s right to marry a decrepit warehouse.

    2. For these kinds of housing projects, “affordable” is typically defined as having a monthly rent equal to or less than 1/3 of the median city household income.

      The Seattle median household income is unusually high at ~$46k/yr, so that works out to a hair under $1,300/mo. Basically, our government approved “affordable” housing is still completely unaffordable for the 1/5 of the city who works in the retail/foodservice industries.

      1. Don’t get me wrong about my take on income distribution in Seattle. Another facet of reaction calling itself liberal is the calm acceptance of opportunity conditioned on formal education conditioned on a very large inherited income.

        Not only is opportunity ailing, but basic human rights. Online news has carried stories lately on hard-working people being taken to jail in handcuffs for missing court dates demanded by collection agencies- in the pay of a health care industry which presently outdoes mortgage banking for hydrophobic greed.

        Go to Google and look up “Janelle Leslie.”

        Over my 30+ years in Seattle, the city has gotten bigger, brighter, cleaner, with steady progress on public transit.

        But it’s also become a place where the working people who used to make up a large percentage of the population have long since moved to Kent, Auburn, and Enumclaw. Taking with them the permanent sense of well-justified grievance that turns them into voters who hate Seattle.

        And depriving Seattle of a large amount of humanity. Look at the posting on the Boston “T” a few days back. People like those track crew used to live in Seattle- and San Francisco and every renewed US city. I miss them terribly. I want them back.

        Their renewed presence will provide the kind of economic invigoration that really will enable a decent life for the people presently suffering the worst.

        In addition, there’s no force of reaction like money that’s reached maximum comfort. In the old phrase: “I’ve got mine.” Not unenlightened- just technically incurious and un-energetic.

        Also have to be careful about inflicting the forgotten battles of the past on present generation. John Fox’s opposition to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel didn’t cost the project a lost minute of work. But the real tragedy is that I think his opposition to transit damaged the credibility of his main, and extremely vital cause.

        Fortunately, like generations, minds change.

        Mark Dublin

      2. John Fox’s mind hasn’t changed in all the time I’ve known him. He is still rabidly anti-transit-investment and anti-densification.

  2. The link for the roll call for the House version points to the Senate roll call. But the first link gives everything that is available on the bill, including the House roll call.

    On the Senate side (where the House version will head next, and where the Senate can accept the House version, insist on its own version with the House asked to recede from its version, or cook up something slightly different to send back over to the House), Senator Rodney Tom is one of the No votes, and probably the best target for conversion to a Yes vote. But keep contacting your own senators, and ask them to support the House version of the bill. Email followed up by a phone call is second-most effective, with a trip to Olympia to see your senator in person being the most effective by far. If anyone lives in Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s district, thanks for getting her to go along with the original bill (since she is pretty much in control of what action the Senate takes on this bill), but urge her to support the improvements the House version added.

    On the House side, Marylou Dickerson’s No vote stands out like a sore thumb. Has anyone heard why she voted No?

    1. This morning, Tuesday, I spoke very briefly with Mary Lou Dickerson in person at her office in Olympia. She assured me she was very much in favor of local MVET option.

      Mark Dublin

    2. I spoke briefly with Mary Lou Dickerson at her office in Olympia this morning, Tuesday. She assured me she’s very much in favor of local MVET.

      Mark Dublin

  3. Affordability is tricky. If you limit rent, how do you choose among the giant list of people that wants under-market rents? You might end up subsidizing people that didn’t need that subsidy, and give them a reason to never, ever move even if this isn’t the best place for them – all while other people that need affordable space can’t live there.

    I’m not completely opposed to rent limits, but in the end the best fix for affordability is supply. If this weak-sauce guarantee of low cost housing ends up with more units, that will increase affordability anyway.

    1. None of the current affordable housing programs I know of give preference based on how low someone’s income is. By law, it is the first qualified applicant who gets the unit.

      Even with rent control on subsidized units, that wouldn’t change.

      I get it that general rent control can discourage developers from building apartments. But targeted rent control (i.e. just on government-subsidized units) should not scare developers away. It just keeps them from charging market rate for subsidized units. Charging market rates on subsidized units defeats the point of the public subsidizing those units.

    2. The problem is supply and demand. We just need more housing if housing is too expensive.

    3. As I commented above in response to Brent, the “affordable housing” requirements are not low-rent. They’re merely meant to be affordable to the median Seattle household bringing in $46k/yr, not a low income household.

      Low income housing is strictly SHA’s territory (along with their hordes of associated non-profits), they have a multi-year backlog of applicants, and no vacancies to put them in. Also their bar for low income is set so high (low?) that if you are working close to full time at minimum wage and have no children or other extenuating circumstances, you will be rejected.

      Hopefully the Yesler Terrace redevelopment will add some capacity to the system and allow people who’ve been waitlisted to finally be placed.

    4. Actually, the *best* fix for affordability is raising the income of people at the bottom of the income distribution. If you flatten the income distribution you end up with more affordable housing very quickly.

      But that’s a matter of national policy, which is practically impossible to deal with on a local level, and difficult even on a state level.

      1. (One of the ways this works is that once income levels are fairly flat, if there’s a housing shortage, the political lobby against building more housing evaporates, because *nobody* can find housing they can afford. Shrinking the “I got mine” group changes the political balance.)

      2. I’m sorry but that is an untenable argument. Housing supply is usually asymmetrical with demand and there are long lags between signals and delivery. Another case where the “free market” fails to deliver an acceptable result e.g. everyone who needs housing at a reasonable fraction of their income can find it (at the moment of need).

  4. A new 1% Excise tax on a $30K vehicle, first year, is something close to $300. That’s piled on top of everything else, along with efforts to start expanding the tolling of congested roadways locally.
    I see it’s business as usual in Olympia.

      1. Thanks for the link Matt. Fascinating. On the one hand, we do have low ‘overall’ rates, compared to the rest of the nation.
        But look at transit taxes. Seattle tops the list, with the next four runner up cities (ATL, HOU, LAX, CHI) almost half, and most cities have no local sales taxes for transit.
        So you could make a case for higher taxes for education, social services, sewers, etc, but be hard pressed to lobby for a bigger transit pie.

      2. MIke, Most cities have no local sales tax for transit because most states don’t rely so heavily on regressive sales taxes.

        And often state government will chip in more for local transit than they do in WA, lessening local burdens. Much the way they chip in for local freeways. Can you imagine if Seattle/King County had to pay for the Deep Bore Tunnel out of local sales taxes? What would our rate be?

      3. I dunno Lack. With Seattle on the hood for all the cost overruns for DBT, we just may find out.

      4. For instance, New York aids local transit operations out of the state general fund last I checked, which is mostly funded by income tax.

        Washington State is unusual in having no state income tax. And it’s in bad company.

    1. Cry me a river. If you can drop $30k on a car, you can afford $300. I don’t think anyone in my family has ever paid more than half that for a perfectly good used car or truck.

      1. That’s on top of the $3,000 paid in sales tax, ouch. The big difference is the $300, which is on top the existing fees is yearly rather than just when you buy the car. It also has nothing to do with milage so if someone has a $30k RV that they only use once or twice a year they get hit with the same fee. Same deal for toys like a motorcycle. That’s why I think the gas tax is a much better funding mechanism. The change to a flat 3 cents per gallon is a step backward. The gas tax should be based on a percentage of the price rather than fixed per gallon. A “windfall” reserve fund could be set up to buffer sharp increases at the pump.

      2. It’s good that we have people like you to judge what is appropriate to buy or not to buy, and to tell people what they can afford. Thanks ever so much for this service.

      3. I think there’s too much variability in vehicle fuel efficiency to make it “fair”. Other than rewarding people who drive fuel efficient cars – a notable goal but counter to state revenue needs.

        What is ironic is that a 1% MVET would at this point motivate me to sell my car as I don’t use it.

        I think a VMT tax is more appropriate. One possible method is to utilize those annual smog inspection stations to note mileage and that gets recorded at DOL for tax purposes.

      4. High gas prices/taxes promote fuel efficiency. That’s good. Think for a minute about fleet vehicles. The MVET will be an incentive for business that have large fleets, say Amazon Fresh, to move out of the county and travel extra miles. These business ventures don’t buy a $30k “car” because they can afford it; it’s part of the cost of doing business (and box trucks are probably way more than $30k). The MVET adds a big yearly cost to doing business in King County.

      5. Which is why I think a VMT is a fairer tax and would have less “unintended consequences” than a MVET. How about $0.01/per mile? Maybe higher for commercial vehicles. This would incentivize them to store vehicles close to their delivery area and to optimize deliveries to minimize route miles.

    2. It is voter approved. Isn’t that what Tim Eyman and Republicans asked for?

  5. I wonder how much $0.03/gallon would raise for King County. At least $25MM/year I suspect, if Seattle would raise $4.5MM/year with a $0.01 increase. Much better than ever-higher license fees IMO.

    Seattle needs to use its $0.01/gallon authority ASAP – it may be a drop in the bucket, but at least it starts to shift the burden of street maintenance to the vehicle users who are causing the wear and tear.

    1. Agreed!

      As someone said a few days ago, the best, most efficient, and most universally-applied toll is a gas tax.

      Okay, it misses electric vehicles, but they’ll be hit hard by the MVET anyway. Oh well. No tax is perfect.

  6. Look anti tax crowd there is a price to civilzation. Public transportation is vital to our long term interst and needs. It’s time to take a balanced few of the the revenue question and pay for services that benefit us all and make “OUR” community better. All of you working class and middle class Republicans/conservatives have been brainwashed when it comes to understanding how taxes work. You are simply advocating for more money in private wealthy hands with no real solutions. Our elected representives are trying to govern and solve problems not steal “your” money. We need the Republican party to come to it’s senses and realize the need to invest in our society and stop with the capitalist propagnda that may make for good politics in the short term but offers nothing when it comes to solving the regions problems. Yes we need more redistribution of wealth on a broad level. Let’s work together and yes the rich will have to pay.

  7. Thanks for this posting. Late-night work schedule right now, just got up. On signing off, will arrange visit to Representative Dickerson, tomorrow if possible.

    Mark Dublin

  8. I’ve had a few hours to digest the affordable housing clause. Overall I think it is a good thing.

    Affordable is scaled for the median household; theoretically it should be the exact midpoint of the rental market.

    It’s necessary to put this rent cap on it to resist the standard developers business model: Build for the top of the market and set rents high enough to absorb a high starting vacancy rate. When the building eventually fills in, rake it in. As the building ages, allow rent to stagnate. When you reach the bottom of the market, kick everyone out, remodel, and repeat.

    “affordable housing” bonuses tempt builders to jump into the center of the housing market rather than all pushing the limits of the high-end. We aren’t talking about pushing them down to the Yesler Terrace market, we’re talking about more of along the lines of The Station at Othello Park. This is a bone to the middle class, not the poor. And they do deserve that bone.

    Ok, so part 2.

    Remember, this is not a requirement for transit agencies, only a new option available to them. As it has been, it’s hard for a station to integrate with it’s environment – they just have to build a plaza and hope a private developer steps forward with a plan that integrates well.

    This allows them more flexibility. This allows an agency to build an underground station with an 8 story mid-market apartment building on top of it, with huge station entrances at all 4 corners. And then just sell off the empty building to private managers. It also opens up a bunch of other, less complex possibilities for integrating stations with surrounding buildings.

    Or when they have to take, say, a strange corner or the portion of some lot for new ROW. Rather than trying to find a buyer with a plan for the remaining funky-shaped lot, they can simply throw up an appropriate mid-market residential building and sell it off to private managers.

    The downside is that then you have public agencies invested in these small pieces of the housing market, and while I think the affordability restriction does effectively keep them from being speculative, those investments could still go sour. But in all these cases, the agency is already invested in the land, which is pretty much the riskiest portion, at least compared to middle-class apartment buildings.

  9. Avoid triple negatives.

    “a source tells me it is nearly inconceivable that Metro’s long-term deficit is not healed by the measure;”

    Do you mean “a source tells me it is almost certain that this measure will eliminate Metro’s long-term deficit”?

  10. Would this affordable housing thing have avoided situations like Mt Baker, where the station entrance is just an isolated mini-building rather than part of a mixed-use development?

  11. Why not mixed-income? Putting a lot of low-income units together breeds crime and disease; we don’t want our transit stations unpleasant.

    1. These are not low income. These are mid-market – target price 1/3 of the average Seattle household income.

      “Affordable housing” means something completely different than “low income housing”. They are nothing alike.

  12. Martin: thanks for the link. Representative Liias authored a great striker. The Senate version fell short. We have work to do in the Senate. The one percent MVET for Metro was part of the January 2009 agreement between the three executives on the deep bore tunnel. It would do three good things: fund the deep related transit capital, such as the Yesler Way trolley overhead; fund the deep bore related service, such as elevating Route 120 to RapidRide; and, most importantly, save Metro from the fiscal cliff, now only 18 months away. Note Seattle had a 1.4 percent MVET a few years ago for the stillborn SMP. Also, the transit components of highway mega projects often get funded last or not at all; I read that has happened in Boston; the two halves of the Silver Line are not connected.

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