As the video indicates, a broad coalition of interest groups, many of which broadly share STB’s ideals, are expressing support for the latest version of the Clibborn package, HB 1954. The conventional wisdom is that these bills will pass the House but run into trouble in the Senate.
For transit advocates, this bill is about saving transit agencies around the State. There are tax provisions tailored to each of the big Puget Sound county agencies. King County (Sec. 405) could levy a 1.5% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), of which 60% would go to Metro and 40% for roads; this would answer Metro’s desire for a “stable” revenue source and basically make the agency’s budget whole. Pierce Transit (Sec. 406, 408), which can’t get voters to approve authorized taxes, could create an “enhanced public transportation zone” to serve precincts interested in supporting transit. Community Transit (Sec. 406), currently maxed out, could add another 0.3% to its sales tax rate. Finally, transportation benefit districts could approve a $40 vehicle license fee without a public vote, up from $20 (Sec. 404).
The summary suggests that over a 12-year period, out 0f $7.8 billion in state spending $100m will go to complete streets and $100m to passenger rail, in addition to $120m in direct state funding for transit. Transportation Choices Coalition Executive Director Rob Johnson tells me that has since increased to $400m, and that its formula suggests Metro would get just under half, which by itself would patch about a fifth of the budget hole.
On the other hand, the bulk of the bill is about raising the gas tax (from 37.5 cents now to 50.5 in 2015, Sec. 101). While gas tax is an excellent source of revenue for roads, the package is heavy on new highways rather than maintenance. 10% of the funding goes to cities and counties, 5% to ferry operations, 7.5% to the “Puget Sound capital construction account,” and the remaining 77.5% to the new “Connecting Washington” account (Sec. 103). That account draws from this list of environmentally destructive highway widening and new freeways, but can also be used for maintenance and upkeep. Some of the proceeds are set aside to complete SR 520. There are also new vehicle weight fees (Sec. 301).
In one of the basic asymmetries in Washington between the way the legislature treats its drivers and its transit riders, the bulk of transit funding is subject to a public vote, while the new highways are deemed too critical to risk at the ballot box. Personally, I’m no fan of direct democracy, but it would be nice if the sustainable transportation options had the same number of veto points as the anti-urban ones.
I imagine transit advocates will have different takes on this issue. For those that primarily care about making sure the transit-dependent have a way to get around, this deal meets their needs, but only if they’re optimistic that the transit measures would pass. For those whose advocacy is more about stopping the spiral of environmental destruction and avoiding land use patterns that are hard to serve with transit, the overall merits are far less clear.