[UPDATE by Martin, 3:08pm: they flipped a vote and passed the Transportation Bill ($) 51-41 today. Now it’s off to the considerably more hostile Senate.]

House Bill 1954, the $10B transportation package that Martin detailed previously, failed to garner the 50 votes required for passage. This bill would have provided the necessary “local option” authority, allowing King County Metro to ask voters for the necessary funds to return the agency to long-term fiscal health. It would have also funded a lot of new highway expansion, raised the gas tax, and, most controversially, continued to fund the Columbia River Crossing.  From the AP:

The package, which had already faced likely resistance in the Senate, included $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including state Route 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. It also included more than $1 billion for maintenance of highways and bridges.

I understand the need for political coalitions and all, but the alliance between pro-transit and pro-highway legislators has always struck me as particularly problematic. It’s like saying to an alcoholic, “sure, you can get a new liver, but only if you agree to continue drinking.” Surely there has to be a better coalition with which to partner, but I haven’t yet figured out what it would be.

51 Replies to “HB 1954 Fails in Special Session”

  1. I don’t think the coalition is hard to understand. If you view transit as primarily about social services then there’s no conflict between building a bunch of highways and running buses on them. It’s only if you interest in transit is about environmental impact that backing highway expansion requires significant cognitive dissonance.

    1. The other problems come when the R side of the equation insists that there is too much money for transit and we “can’t afford it”, so the bill gets reduced to a giant roads bill with a very short term patch on only the bus funding problem.

    2. I think that it’s a false dichotomy—I’m both “pro-transit” and “pro-highway” and I have no problems reconciling those two positions. The actual issue, as I see it, is that too many people view highways as the only solution to the transportation problem. Given the historical lopsidedness, that certainly gets me to advocate more strongly for non-highway solutions, but I still support highways/roads in many cases.

      The real trick is to convince those “pro-highway” legislators that having transportation choices is liberating, but as a “pro-transit” advocate, you can’t simply say no to every highway project either.

      1. Yeah I don’t think most of us are saying “no” to every highway project. We’re just extremely frustrated by the pro road side that thinks that transit is just “toy trains” and insists on taking the lion’s share of or just all of the transportation budget.

        I get really angry when they want us to pay for roads and bridges but think the buses and trains should be taken care of fully by the fare box.

      2. There’s “saying no to every highway project” and then there’s recognizing that so many of the highway proposals get us farther from where we need to go, not closer. A lot of people don’t recognize the impact that freeway and interchange expansion has in increasing the auto-domination of our local streets and increasing the maintenance load going forward.

        And so a highway project always has to be something better than “add more lanes to the freeway because the existing ones are congested”. To me that’s almost never a good deal, and without some other real benefit it’s something to oppose every single time it comes up.

  2. You would think that you could get some reasonable (moderate?) republicans in this state. Nope, they want to shut everything down too. It has to be my way or nothing at all.

    What a load of crap.

    The two democrats that defected to create this mess need to be replaced in the primaries in the next election. Period.

    The idea that Seattle won’t even be allowed to tax itself to solve this mess because a bunch of Republicans from the east side think its a bad idea to let us run our own affairs is really aggravating. Yes, a bunch of people who don’t even live here know how to run our city better then we do right? Maybe we should start a coalition to block every single new road project scheduled to be built on the east side of the mountains… see how they like outsiders preventing them from building necessary infrastructure.

    1. Rep. Dans Hunshee (D – Snohomish) doesn’t need to be replaced. He needs to be replicated. He is a lone voice of ecological sanity in Olympia. I wish Seattle had a progressive legislator in Olympia like him.

      I would have voted against this version of HB 1954, given the chance, because it is mostly fat, and the good part comes with too many ifs ands and buts.

      Any legislator on the prevailing (nay) side of the vote can move its reconsideration. The bill history page states “Notice given to reconsider vote on final passage.” I can’t imagine the bill changing enough to become something I’d want to see pass. The fiscal note would have to drop by about $3 billion.

      1. Indeed, Hans Dunshee was using a bike as his main mode of getting around for doorbelling his sprawling district long before Mayor McGinn adopted the idea.

      2. Further clarification, I was unaware before I went and checked a few news sources that we were talking about the Washington state Congress here and not the senate.

        I do not oppose trying to make the bill more balanced. Right now its full of road pork (as noted elsewhere on this thread) to try and get the Senate to agree with it.

        I think the real reason R’s oppose Seattle taxing itself to fix these problems is that we would no longer be giving them all this pork from the state tax pool (which largely comes from the west side of the mountains, thank you) every time we have a critical transportation project to address.

    2. Problems with the R’s are why these packages get so big and so road heavy.

      In order to have any chance in heck of getting a gas tax increase past the R’s in the legislature, you need to load it with gravy for their constitutes – and that means lots of roads. The I-405 expansion is there primarily to secure suburban R votes for the package. Ditto for the Pacific Gateway (primarily the SR-167 component). The N-S Freeway is similar, but has a more E. WA regional appeal. Without it you wouldn’t get several E. WA R or D votes. And so it goes.

      I suspect they will eventually get this past the House by delaying the SR-509 component of the Pacific Gateway, and then making some additional tweaks to some second tier projects and the overall pace of construction.

      The Senate? The R’s have more control and a train wreck is the likely outcome.

    3. By my quick count, there were at least 7 Democrats that voted “NAY”, so this isn’t just GOP stonewalling–there are some problems with this package In this case, I think it’s more like trying to order pizza for a large group: somebody wants pepperoni, someone wants mushrooms, someone wants onions, someone wants pineapple, but when it’s time to place the order a couple of people look at the entire combo and go “YUCK!”.

      1. Good analogy. Then there’s the vegan caucus that doesn’t want pizza, really doesn’t care for helping buy a meat-covered pizza for the rest of the group, and is being told that, unless they chip in on the pizza, they will not be allowed to bring their own salad on the premisis. Okay, the larger group relents, you chip in for the pizza, and we’ll allow you to caucus amongst yourselves to choose a salad to order, but you are going to have to pay for it yourselves, and you have to all agree on it, or we’re not letting you order the salad. Oh, and the pizza eaters will get to participate in the vote. Sound like a deal?

      2. Actually, the entire Seattle delegation voted for it, so don’t expect the deal to get any better for Metro. It is the suburban representatives who are holding out for a better deal. But with Dunshee and Liias in the nay group, there is at least some hope that trimming the fat may be part of the deal. One of the nay voters will be needed to move for reconsideration.

  3. Let’s give Eastern Washington the boot, tell them to be a new state, and tell them to figure their budget out themselves. Then, we shall proceed to build light rail from Oregon to BC, and the east side will actually have to work to earn their money, instead of just pulling it out of Seattle’s pockets. I am sick of this BS.

    1. Help me understand how the Eastern Washington folks kept this from passing.

      “Democrats hold a 55-seat majority in the House, but several Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the measure: Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Marko Liias of Mukilteo, Monica Stonier of Vancouver, and Kevin Van de Wege of Sequim. One Republican, Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup, voted in favor of the funding package. Seven lawmakers were not present and did not vote on the measure, including one Democrat, Rep. Dean Takko of Longview, who is out of the country.”

  4. How about this coalition: Find a few Republicans that want to go back to their constituents bragging about how they kept the gas tax very low by providing money only for maintenance. No new Columbia River boondoggle (CRC) or massive projects benefiting Puget Sound (167/509 or 405 improvements). Meanwhile, find folks on the other side of the aisle that would rather spend money on transit, rather than roads. Propose a bill that that is largely maintenance based (e. g. fixing failing bridges) but gives local authorities the right to raise taxes for transit. After all, the Republican should care less about what the latte drinking, Volvo driving (or should I say, bike riding) hippies in Puget Sound want to do to themselves.

    Seems like a winning coalition to me — I just have no idea if there are enough people who could form it.

    1. After all, the Republican should care less about what the latte drinking, Volvo driving (or should I say, bike riding) hippies in Puget Sound want to do to themselves.

      Unfortunately, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, this has not been the case for quite some time. Many rural Republicans have so much resentment and anger toward the city that it would be politically dangerous to give the city what it wants even if there is no cost to the rural district.

      1. Yeah, good point. The worse part is, restricting some other district’s ability to raise taxes gets viewed by some organizations and individuals as almost as good as lowering taxes. This might even give them a higher rating by some political groups (I’m assuming this is the case).

        Democrats need to separate this issue. They need to play the libertarian, “regional rights” card. The Governor as well as other leaders need to question why these other legislators want to restrict what other districts can do. They also need to remind them that if they don’t allow the district to pass their own tax increase, eventually a statewide increase will occur when Democrats have more power.

        Keep in mind, I understand why there are these types of restrictions. It is similar to restrictions on school levies. If you allow every school to pay for their own basic education, pretty soon the rich districts have great, expensive schools and the poor ones have cheap, poor ones. Then when it comes to statewide funding, the rich districts have no interest, since their schools are self funded.

        But a lot of the Republicans have already said they basically don’t want anything. They don’t want to pay for any public transit, or even any road building. To extend my analogy, it would be as if they said they don’t want anyone, anywhere to fund education. This is a ridiculous argument (whether you are talking about education or transit) and my guess is that a lot of their own constituents think so, too. Tell me you want to add buses in Walla Walla or Yakima before you add more buses in King County and I’ll listen. Tell me you would rather build roads outside of Spokane instead of in Federal Way and I’m all ears. But tell me you want nothing and then tell me you want to prevent me from paying for anything myself. That is simply a ridiculous argument, and most people would agree if they even knew it was going on.

      2. @David L

        “Unfortunately, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, this has not been the case for quite some time. Many rural Republicans have so much resentment and anger toward the city that it would be politically dangerous to give the city what it wants even if there is no cost to the rural district.”

        It’s easy: 1) They resent our success, 2) We are successful while doing the opposite of what the support, and 3) For the most part we hardly even notice that they are there.

  5. We will continue to lose these fights until we realize we have to leave Seattle and go organize the suburbs. There are a lot of people there who share our values and who want better transit service. But until we go to the Eastside, to southeastern Snohomish County, to South King County, to Pierce County, and start knocking on doors and making phone calls, then we will continue to lose these kinds of fights.

    The coalition we need, Frank, is with suburban voters. Plain and simple. Republican legislators in Washington have become completely absorbed by the Tea Party, so we can no longer rely on the old tactics of trying to cut deals or trying to appeal to logic and reason. From here on out it’s all about organizing. Nothing else matters.

    1. I like the idea of helping people outside of Seattle organize for a common cause. We need to have the leaders be people in those areas though or I don’t think it will work.

      Anyone on this board from the suburbs?

      1. @Al Dimond Excellent, that is where suburban organizing should begin then I think. If it comes from Seattle it would seem less genuine.

        We should all help of course….

    2. I’m not really convinced there’s as much common ground as you think. Eastside suburbanites choose to live in developments that are more or less impossible to serve efficiently with transit — just look at how many Eastside buses are on the Metro death list. When an Eastsider talks up transit they are usually talking about support for peak flow buses — ideally fast one seat rides from their neighborhoods, or failing that fast one seat rides from a convenient, sufficiently large park and rides. Some might add buses to Microsoft to the list.

      I suspect much the same is true of SE Snohomish County, South King County and much of Pierce county too, I’m just not sufficiently personally familiar to say somethign so definitive.

    3. Yes, but the suburban/urban coalition is what just fell apart. Do you think anyone from Seattle really wants any of the big road projects that have been proposed? CRC is a boondoggle, but has a little rail that no one from Seattle will use. 167/509 just looks like a big waste of money for an area that most urban voters don’t care about. Expanding 405 (in places) sounds reasonable, but really, it isn’t that important to someone from Seattle. The Seattle voter wants to be able to get through Seattle and onto the bridges when commuting to work. The 99 tunnel was shoved down our throat (against the will of the voters as well the agencies recommendation). It cost the old mayor his job (well, that a bad response to a snow storm). More to the point, that is being built, whether we like it or not. The same is true for 520 expansion (which is something that Seattle voters also like). But there really isn’t much in here from a road perspective that a Seattle driver will like. There is no improvement on I-5 in Seattle (how about another lane through downtown — while you are at it, how about extending the cap over downtown a couple blocks north to better link Capitol Hill and downtown). No, there is none of that. Basically, if you look at the road projects, they primarily benefit the suburban districts.

      The main benefit is that the urban areas get to raise their taxes in exchange. A good coalition on paper, but it turns out that there are just too many folks who can’t get excited about the suburban projects. The urban representatives have bent over backwards to make this work. The suburban representatives like this, but they are outnumbered. For the Republicans, it works out great. Now there are a bunch of suburban Democratic representatives who will struggle to get reelected because they didn’t provide the big road projects that folks in their district wanted.

      In short, I just don’t see how a “pro-transit” coalition can be built if this “transit for the urban areas and some nice roads for the suburbs” coalition just collapsed.

      1. Who outside Seattle really cares about Seattle’s transit outcomes, or should care? The suburbs could lose their one-seat rides and wasteful routes, but that’s only incidentally connected to Seattle’s fate. Gutting transit would hurt Seattle’s economy and make it harder to meet our ecological goals by encouraging sprawl, but people outside Seattle really don’t understand how different cities are from suburbs or rural areas, and even people in Seattle don’t seem to want TOD.

      2. I don’t see any Seattle reps who didn’t vote yes. The suburban reps killed it, and at least a couple of those reps are rabidly pro-transit and not too fond of freeways. Did Community Transit not get any help in the final version of HB 1954?

  6. I am pro-transportation and even pro-transit.

    But the state has to fund these things with property taxes.

    Sales and nuisance fees are already way too high on the common productive working person.

    The land rich “natives” have to decide…and then spend against their very highly valued assets.

    1. I am fine with this coming from property taxes, they are more progressive anyway. The problem is this intense anti- any tax sentiment coming from certain parts of the state.

      This seems to include a bizarre situation where people outside of Seattle are allowed to decide for us whether or not we can tax ourselves.

      btw, there is something more regressive than sales tax to fund buses. Funding the buses through only the fare box.

      1. This is the other thing. Tea Partiers think everyone should go it alone and pull themselves up by their bootstraps without any government assistance whatsoever. If they can’t throw out the transit system entirely, they’d love to privatize it (because the free market always knows what’s best, right?). What’s needed is a national conversation on how poorness begets poorness and richness begets richness. Unfortunately, I don’t think even Democrats understand this very well, and we’d have to challenge the notion that everyone wants to “leave a better life for my kids” by pointing out what that really means.

      2. Based on what I saw from the video posted on this site, earlier Ed Orcutt believes the reason for the micromanagement is that they’re worried that we’ll keep on piling taxes upon ourselves without realizing it.

        While I appreciate his concern, I don’t know if the scenario he describes is an inevitability.

      3. Why not a Land Value Tax, LVT?

        Can a land tax reduce sprawl and strengthen urban economies? The evidence is persuasive though not conclusive. Political economist Henry George first proposed a land value tax over 100 years ago, as a way to eliminate land specualtion and make more land available for production.

        Today,some observers hail it as a way to curb sprawl. Current property taxes are based in the value of property, reflecting both the land and structure value, in a proportion determined by local property assessors. Decisions to reinvest or remodel currently result in higher assessment valuations and thus higher taxes.


    2. Property taxes are more progressive, but a gas tax is a sin tax. I drive quite a bit, but I know that I’m hurting the environment when I do so. I agree that these should be balanced (if we pay for everything with sin taxes it is likely that the poor will shoulder a huge proportion of the burden).

      1. So what happens when we start driving fuel cell cars powered by hydrogen created from wind and solar.

        Is that a sin?

      2. If it means sprawl can continue unabated, chewing up forests and farmland, ignoring how much cheaper it is to provide services to dense areas, and allowing congestion to get worse? Yes.

      3. Still a sin when 2/3 of the overall electricity production is from fossil fuels. Until that gets to zero your just robbing from Peter to pay Paul.

      4. No, or at least not as much of a sin. Like Bernie said, it depends on where you get the energy. Generally speaking, electricity is taxed or can be taxed if this really becomes a problem (the type of problem I hope we have). There are a lot of options for alternative types of payments — some based on energy use (which generally coincide with wear and tear on the road) and some based on other taxes, like what you proposed.

      5. “but a gas tax is a sin tax”

        I find this amusing in the sense that if you spend the gas tax on highway expansion, it would be like a church using their collection monies to fund the whorehouse/casino next door.

        Just present the costs and benefits to voters in a “highway only” ballot proposal.

        That way, proponents for highway expansion get their chance to convince their constituents why it’s a good idea to have higher taxes.

      6. “No, or at least not as much of a sin. “

        That would make it a venial sin, then

  7. I’m suspecting that a lot of the nay votes are not about the local transit option, but about holding out for the elimination of state rules that ensure our highways are built by union labor.

  8. I’m not sure I’d read too much into this vote. There were 48 yes votes, assuming teh one absent Democrat would have voted yes, and that one of the 42 nay votes is someone who switched his vote so that a motion to reconsider would be in order, the votes are actually there.

    In any case, as several people up thread seem to be implying, this measure is almost certainly DOA in the Senate anyway. As such, the vote was a largely meaningless, and a great opportunity for people to score cheap political points at the expense of good policy.

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