The Washington State Capitol
The Washington State Capitol by aidaneus

On Friday the Senate declined to take up the House transportation package, meaning no local option this year for King County Metro. In a procedural vote to bring the measure to the floor, King County Senators Joe Fain (R-47), Steve Litzow (R-41), Andy Hill (R-45), Pam Roach (R-31), and Rodney Tom (D-48) voted no. There will be another chance next session to provide either direct funding or a new funding source for Metro to stave off impending service cuts, but in the meantime, staff resources at the agency will be directed to prepare for them. This means staff aren’t available to plan for much else, so the City of Seattle is funding a full time planner to assist Metro.

It’s important to remember that this entire situation was created by the legislature, in decision after decision after decision. It was the legislature that limited the Congestion Reduction Charge (which passed the KC Council with a supermajority) to only two years. It was the legislature that only provided Highway 99 construction mitigation money for half the length of construction disruptions. Both temporary funding sources expire in 2014, resulting in the current crisis. However, these are only issues due to an earlier and much larger attack on Metro: SB 6865. It wasn’t Tim Eyman that took away Metro’s stable funding, it was the legislature:

At the November 1999 election the voters approved Initiative 695 which replaced the 2.2 percent state tax and the $2.00 clean air excise tax with a maximum annual license fee of $30 per vehicle. Although the Initiative was subsequently declared unconstitutional, the Legislature repealed these state taxes and established the $30 vehicle license fee by enacting SB 6865, Chapter 1, 1st Special Session, Laws of 2000, which was effective on January 1, 2000.

In 1999 the state provided 23% of transit funding in Washington, today it provides only 2%. For a state that claims to be a progessive leader we are at the bottom of the rankings in terms of state support for transit (national average is 22%). For a party that claims to dislike big government it is the height of hypocrisy to block local governments from enacting the will of their voters when it comes to local services.

75 Replies to “Olympia Fails Again”

  1. Absolute agreement Matthew.

    I feel as a weekly user of that 2% that more needs to be done. I don’t see why the local funding option must have a 2nd vote if the 1st vote on taxes was statewide and why we can’t have a state pot of money for all transit in our state.

    1. I object!
      Matthew said “It’s important to remember that this entire situation was created by the legislature, …”
      Olympia is certainly not helping the matter any, but it’s really not ‘Entirely’ their fault.
      I remember posting several months after the great recession hit in ~08, saying Metro should be looking quickly to cut unproductive services, streamline fares and boarding and a host of other cost cutting measures, instead of sabre rattling about forming blue ribbon commissions and adding less productive service. Metro still hasn’t cut much fat, and many of the touted savings came from cannibalizing nearly every capital and rainy day account on the books. I hope they don’t have to build something unexpected or snows ever again.
      Olympia is not a rubber stamp for transit bailouts, so quit expecting every crisis to be solved by them or even expecting them to let taxation run rampant at the local level. Believe it or not, they care about other priorities too.

      1. Olympia is not a rubber stamp for transit bailouts, so quit expecting every crisis to be solved by them or even expecting them to let taxation run rampant at the local level.

        You still don’t get it, do you?

        Before 1999, about a quarter of Metro’s budget came from “Olympia.” In 1999, Olympia took away that quarter of the budget. Since then, it has been 14 years of improvisational, mostly temporary measures trying to fill the hole. Those worked very well in the boom years, but then in the recession years more was required. Most of the recommendations of the 2009 audit were implemented. Contrary to your assertion, a good deal of unproductive service was cut in restructures. But now the latest temporary measures are running out.

        TL;DR: This crisis came about as a direct result of Olympia’s actions, which is why Olympia needs to step up to the plate and either solve it or let us solve it ourselves.

      2. OK David, you win this time. I have to go out today and earn a living, so I agree 100% with you. It’s all Pam and Rodneys fault, those bastards. And Kemper is the boogey man too.
        ps, I used to be in Pams district and never voted once for her.

      3. “taxation run rampant at the local level”

        You mean let we the citizens of King County be able to choose our own fate by holding our own election to decide to tax ourselves? We’re not allowed to do that? Sounds fairly undemocratic to me.

        There’s only so much “fat” Metro can trim. David’s right, they’ve implemented pretty much everything possible. Tons of routes have been deleted or modified since the recession. It’s hard to get around the fact that labor and diesel aren’t free.

      4. Mike B, I don’t know if this is true for mic in particular, but what a lot of “trimming the fat” proponents really want is for Metro to become deunionized, and to have lower salaries and benefits (leading to lower labor cost). Given the existing agreements that could only happen with a major restructuring of the bureaucracy. And, judging by CT’s experience in subcontracting operations to the lowest bidder, it would also lead to a materially worse transit system.

    2. Wait, did Av Geek Joe just endorse state socialism of transit and forgoing the whole “local authority only” mantra that he’s always spouted before? *shock* Maybe he’ll wise up and start putting the blame squarely on those most responsible for the attack on transit: the Republican Party that hates anything that is common ownership and won’t do anything to aide the woes of this critical infrastructure.

  2. Yeouch.

    And, of course, it’s worth noting that this is Senator Murray not keeping his caucus in line.

    1. I can’t help but think that Murray is a poison pill mayoral candidate sent for the purpose of having an Olympia compliant stooge in Seattle who won’t make demands for greater public transportation suppport from a Seattle hating legislature.

      1. Yeah, I don’t quite get the whole “collaborating more with Olympia” argument Murray makes. Is he saying that he’ll be a more effective legislator when he’s not legislating? Or is he saying that Rodney Tom is McGinn’s fault? Or…I mean what is it exactly that he thinks McGinn should have done with the legislature that Murray would do? It’s his main argument, but it’s startlingly empty.

  3. “Transit supporters accuse Tom of deserting his home county, where Metro ridership recently passed 400,000 daily boardings, to please his GOP allies.”

    How could anyone say Rodney Tom is against transit when he says things like this –

    “Metro should build more suburban park-and-ride lots, Tom said, arguing that the Eastside “has been shortchanged for ages” in transit.”

    Obviously the answer to the transit problems in Seattle is more investments in Park-and-ride and to work closely with Republicans in eastern WA who will never ever in a million years allocate another cent of money to any transit projects in Seattle.

    I wonder what he would say if someone told him Park-and-ride require a “ride” typically in the form of funded public transit. Obviously he didn’t get the memo.

    1. Kind of makes sense, given anyone from Eastern Washington who is using transit on a visit to Seattle is probably doing so by parking their car at a suburban park and ride. Local service within Seattle may benefit people in Seattle more, but it doesn’t benefit people from Yakima who are driving to Seattle for a visit, and don’t want to pay for parking downtown.

      1. Of course, the car tab proposal for Metro wouldn’t have cost anything to someone who lives in Yakima. Do we need to give them an (expensive) park-and-ride?

      2. The number of people from Yakima parking at a Pugetopolis P&R per year is probably zero. They’re already paying for gas from Yakima and car maintenance. A $10 fee to park in a downtown garage is not going to make a difference if you come to Seattle a few days a year, and they’re probably going to some place with free parking anyway.

      3. I would not say the number of people from eastern Washington parking in our park-and-rides is a lot. But “never” is a very strong statement. I have no doubt that, whatever it is, it’s not zero.

        In any case, my argument still stands. Yes, the likelihood of someone from Yakima using any transit in King County is small, but if someone from Yakima is going to use a piece of transit in King County, it would probably be the park-and-ride variety.

    2. I believe this is part of the new Republican logic: “we want it, but we don’t want to pay for it, nor do we want it to work properly, but it should do everything and function properly, and a lot of people use it and like it, but since only a small portion doesn’t work properly, we can’t have it and we need to break it so it doesn’t work, and now that it doesn’t work, it’s the Dems fault, but most importantly, it shouldn’t cost us anything. Tax cuts!”

      1. Notice that this was Reagan’s formula. Breaking any government function which he could figure out how to break, tax cuts for the rich, fees for the poor, military contractor spending… and whenever anyone asks why he’s doing things which make no sense, bafflegab. Apparently subsequent Republicans have taken this formula to heart.

      2. Nathanael, you may not have been alive when Regan was president. Pretty sure you weren’t voting age let alone trying to find a job. I was. Thinks got way better under Regan than they were under Carter. Ask your self this, are you better off than you were four years ago?

      3. I was alive when Reagan was President.

        Reagan was fundamentally dishonest, he was actually suffering from Alzheimer’s while he was President, and he had the most criminal gang of assistants until G. W. Bush. I remember Iran-Contra — does anyone else?

        Carter… well, Carter made the cardinal mistake — he didn’t remember that “it’s the economy, stupid” — he allowed Vollker to induce a recession by raising interest rates (tight money policy at the Federal Reserve).

        Things got better under Reagan because Vollker lowered interest rates. Nothing more, nothing less. Reagan was trashing the federal government, but people didn’t notice because people are mostly really ignorant. People noticed that there were more jobs, which was *entirely* due to the easy-money policy from the Federal Reserve, and nothing to do with Reagan. They misattributed it to Reagan.

        The fact that most people don’t understand economics has led to some real political disasters. People blame, or credit, the President for the economic situation, when to the extent the government has an effect, it’s mostly the result of activity by (a) the Federal Reserve or (b) Congress.

      4. So there’s your first lesson, Bernie. If you voted for Reagan based on “better economy”, you were a fool. I hope you’ve learned better since then.

      5. FWIW, since nearly everyone *thinks* the President has control over the economy, I strongly support ending the independence of the Federal Reserve and making it obey the direct orders of the President. Then the President actually *would* have some control over the economy and things would be more like people think they are.

      6. Oh. It was also proven a few years ago that Reagan’s 1980 campaign team actually committed treason by contacting Iran and telling the hostage-takers NOT to release the hostages until after the election, sabotaging Carter’s efforts to get them released.

        We suspected it at the time, but it was only proven a few years ago after most of the people involved were dead or retired.

  4. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for any future legislation either. We’ll have the same actors in place next fall, and in order go garner some Republican support the bill would need to be even more lopsided toward new highways than it was.

    I don’t see a positive outcome until 2014. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. As I see it, it was a highway project that caused the bill to not get out of committee, although curiously that was an anti-transit vote too. I think everyone here is ignoring how much Vancouver area GOP senators hated the CRC with light rail.

      1. Exactly right. And they are accurately reflecting the views of their constituents. Somehow Vancouver Republicans have become convinced that MAX trains will eat their babies. The level of dislike of the project has gone way beyond “it’s a waste of money.”

      2. This is true only in the case of the CRC and transportation bill – the senate didn’t even take up the local funding option proposal that would have allowed King County to fund and build its own transit network.

        The opinions of the GOP in the state senate are neither opaque nor fractious; if nothing else (and I can’t find anything else), you gotta hand it to them for keeping their membership in line. It sucks, but it’s well-organized politics.

    2. It’s a problem that we always have to compromise with more lane miles to get more transit. Isn’t there anything Republicans like when it comes to transportation other than more roads? Could we get a transit + road and bridge maintenance package together? Or transit + corporate welfare package (I kid).

      1. Isn’t there anything Republicans like when it comes to transportation other than more roads?

        Not really.

        And I’m happy to give it to them, to a certain extent. I’d be happier if the pro-transit coalition directed its focus selectively at excising the very worst road projects rather than generally at trying to oppose all road-building.

      2. How about bribe them outright – remove the sales altogether from everyone in the state outside of King County, and have people like us make up the difference!

      3. The road projects that transit advocates have opposed most have been really bad ones, from the RH Thompson to the DBT to the massive lane and interchange expansion of the CRC. Transit advocates have generally supported the Mercer project despite its flaws, and the 520 bridge rebuild despite its flaws, largesse, and missed opportunities (especially transit access to Bel-Red).

        Outside of major highways and access to them, transit advocates have broadly supported much local road-building accompanying new development in places including Bel-Red, downtown Bellevue, and SLU, even when it means adding road lanes and parking. There are immense parts of suburban Puget Sound where similar projects to complete street networks and improve general local access, mostly consisting of road building, would be heartily applauded by transit advocates. This very blog ran a post suggesting a 3rd Ave NW ship canal crossing that would increase SOV speed and capacity around lower Fremont.

  5. How could it get like this? Why was the state able to take away the MVET if it was declared unconstitutional?!?? Why would the state have been allowed to do that? Did they change it a bit to find a workaround?

    1. The initiative that removed the MVET was unconstitutional because it didn’t meet constitutional requirements for initiatives. There was no constitutional reason the legislature couldn’t take the same actions that the initiative sought to.

      1. What did not help matters was how out of whack parts of the state valuations were – so were pretty far off, which caused some ‘legitimate’ anger. But instead of fixing the tables, or doing something like making the value the mean between Edmunds/Kelley Blue Book et al, they just rolled over and passed the craptastic $30 flat fee.

  6. I think of it this way: What are some of the things that we could have today if the legislature had not taken MVET away:

    1. Sunday service in Snohomish County
    2. Probably not looking at horrific cuts in Pierce County
    3. We would not be discussing a 17% cut in service in King County
    4. A more robust feeder network to Link and Sounder
    5. Spokane would probably have more 15-minute corridors
    6. Sunday service outside of Bellingham in Whatcom County
    7. A more robust inter-county service between Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties
    8. More life-line services to rural areas of the state
    9. Better connectivity on the Olympic peninsula and Washington coast
    10. More 30-minute corridors in Everett
    11. Possibly 15-minute corridors or expanded service in Yakima

    1. “A more robust inter-county service between Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties”

      Somehow, we managed to end up with a network that prioritizes connecting Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties with each other, than connecting these counties to the largest population center in the state – the Seattle/Tacoma/Everett areas. How does it logically make sense for Mt. Vernon/Bellingham to get all-day and Saturday service, while Mt. Vernon/Everett gets no service at all outside of rush hour, except for Amtrak and Greyhound? Can one really argue that people who live in Mt. Vernon visit Bellingham far more often than they would visit Seattle (or anywhere in King/Pierce/Snohomish Counties, for that matter)? From the allocation of bus service, you would think so.

      1. It was by no means an exhaustive list. However, I do not recall whether MVET funded Amtrak Cascades service. If it did, then that can be added to the list.

        But you are probably right, there could be additional service between Everett and Mount Vernon, provided the private carriers in the corridor didn’t protest. Although they could protest any portion of an expanded inter-county service between those three counties (Skagit, Island and Whatcom), if they haven’t done so already.

    2. You can add:
      11. Sunday service in Kitsap County
      12. Passenger-only ferry service between Bremerton and Seattle

      1. I would consider passenger-only ferry service between Bremerton and Seattle a lower priority than just about everything else. There is plenty of passenger capacity as it is for anyone who wants to travel that round on the car ferry. There is no need to spend money on a whole separate boat just to create move empty space on the boat we already have.

      2. How many times does passenger only service to Bremerton have to become a shipwreck to prove it’s a terrible idea? With the second Narrows Bridge a done deal it’s hard enough to justify the car ferry.

    3. My rebuttal to the thoughts above.

      1. Night and Sunday service in Snohomish County, demand response in lightly-patronized areas
      2. Pierce County would have cuts regardless, their budget and economy is flaky.
      3. Metro would have much more service, but would be constrained by fleet capacity
      4. There would be no ST2, it would have been grossly politically unpopular. Routes would not coordinate with Link or Sounder due to community interests opposed to the idea.
      5. Spokane would have been the same as in the mid-1990’s.
      6. WTA would only have skeletal night and Sunday service
      7. No inter-county from Skagit to Whatcom, only very basic service from Mt Vernon to Stanwood.
      8. Several counties would have no PTBA’s who have them now.
      9. Slightly better service in Grays Harbor, but nothing in West Jefferson.
      10. Everett Transit would no longer exist, CT would have been compelled to merge.
      11. Yakima Transit would be the same as in 1999, nothing on Sundays, service 6am to 7pm weekdays, 8am to 7pm saturdays

      What those of you wishing for the MVET must realize, is that the majority of systems in the state were only collecting 3/10th’s percent sales tax. They had the room to double their rate if necessary, and many did.

      Lifting the sales tax lid was mainly for Community Transit, who had done the hack and slash to weekday only service, which was so severe that they pushed the legislature into coming up with a band-aid.

      Since the MVET repeal, the state has been much more focused on providing grants to innovative projects which serve a state-centered purpose. These grants largely did not exist prior to 1999.

      1. Since the MVET repeal, the state has been much more focused on providing grants to innovative projects which serve a state-centered purpose. These grants largely did not exist prior to 1999.

        That may be true, but it hardly makes up for the major dent in overall funding, or for the partial replacement of a relatively stable and predictable revenue source with a much smaller and much more volatile one.

  7. “For a party that claims to dislike big government it is the height of hypocrisy to block local governments from enacting the will of their voters when it comes to local services.” It’s not the height of hypocrisy if you look at it as disliking big government, or any government, at ANY level.

    1. Except that Rodney Tom has stated, on the record, that he opposes a local option because it would mean that King County would stop funding the rest of the state’s highways.

      Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said Monday he will work with other lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on a transportation deal. “We can either pass it in December or early next session,” Tom said.

      He insists that any new tax for Metro be tied to a state plan, rather than letting pro-transit, pro-tax King County voters go it alone.

      “If you don’t link them, what happens is, once the transit crowd gets what they consider they want, the road package gets torpedoed, and vice versa,” he said.

      Those aren’t the words of someone who believes in small, decentralized government.

      1. That sounds much more in line with anarchy. But we the people have told our leaders many times we want more transit, not more roads (RDIT 2007, Transit Now!, ST1, ST2). So the big Republican foot of Olympia, with GOP leaders openly proclaiming “no transit for you!”, are coming in and squashing out what we locals have voted for several times. Sounds like empowering the very same Big Government the GOP is always fighting.

        PS. Roads are big government too.

    2. If you dislike all government, that’s a consistent point of view, but Republicans routinely vote for Big Government. For instance, most of them are big backers of the NSA spying on everyone, and most of them are big backers of “government in your uterus”, getting between women and their doctors.

  8. For a state that claims to be a progessive leader we are at the bottom of the rankings in terms of state support for transit (national average is 22%).

    We also suck at funding schools, sending people to college, and funding universities.

    For a party that claims to dislike big government it is the height of hypocrisy to block local governments from enacting the will of their voters when it comes to local services.

    I think this makes little sense to us, but it is perfectly consistent with what their understanding of “limited” government is.

    1. Sen. Ed Murray used to say on the campaign trail that he was often accused of being a single-issue legislator. He would pause for dramatic effect, and say something like that single issue is transportation.

      So, I have to ask, what has Ed Murray been doing in Olympia all these years?

  9. This post hits the nail on the head re. the history of our current transit funding crisis.

    I had a conversation with one of the senators named above at the Transportation Choices gala in May. He said that he understood all the reasons I gave him why it is appropriate and beneficial to fund mass transit, but that it was very difficult to explain to his constituents!

    1. If that was his only reason for voting no, it means he KNOWS how to reduce congestion for his constituents, and yet prefers the easier route of letting them suffer in congestion, because most of them won’t realize that he is a cause of their suffering!

      Kathy Lambert (R-Woodinville) in 2011 was more principled, voting the way that she knew was right and taking the trouble to write a lengthy op-ed explaining her vote to her constituents:
      http://woodinville.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/oped-county-council-member-kathy-lambert-explains-her6f90fd49c2

      1. I fully expect a STB endorsement for her this fall please.

        Hague, I can understand why not. She needs to go.

        Lambert, who has gone toe to toe with the anti-transit voices in hers and my party more than I have…

      2. She seems pretty cool.

        We have some decent local Republicans where I live too — just no good *national* Republicans. On the whole, local politics is in OK shape, while national politics is *trashed*, with state politics being somewhere in between depending on state. I would love it if there were a party realignment and the decent local people joined parties which actually clearly stood for things, rather than hanging onto the degenerated, incoherent national parties.

  10. It appears that the Republicans in the Senate believe that King County just sucks taxes for it’s big transportation projects and they do not think much of our “progressive” political leanings either. Don’t they realize that King County is the driver of the State economy, whether you live in Seattle or Omak! Without stable funding for transportation (transit), King County economy slows (matching the slowing down of the commute), and the entire State suffers economically. I guess until that becomes apparent to all, nothing will change. Crisis drives action!

    1. The Seattle Times reported that Senator Tom is insistant that transit and roads be linked: he’s afraid that once one side gets what they want, they’ll torpedo the other side’s wishes. It also reports that his caucus believes that drivers are paying enough, and that further revenues for transit should come from sales tax.

      At this point, I think we are going to have to accept that Metro is going to have to make cuts, and that we’ll have to try to displace Tom, Litzow and their ilk who seem to be more interested in union busting than in serving their consituents. I’ll certainly let Steve know how displeased I am with him if I see him around the neighborhood.

    2. I really think the best thing for transit in the puget sound area is to split the state at the cascades, maybe even let them keep everything south of mason and thurston county. This way we could have more power to toll roads, raise gas taxes or whatever. These are all things that most people in king county want, but we can’t do it because eastern Washington republicans think anything different (even soccer) is soviet style socialism. Even if we just threaten with the possibility it might get eastern washington politicians to shut up. They know they couldn’t survive without stealing tax dollars from king, pierce, snohomish, kitsap and thurston counties.

      1. I agree, Wes. My relatives in Eastern Washington think all of us in Western Washington (Seattle) are “Gay, pot-smoking, commies,” who do NOT believe that Climate Change is a left-wing conspiracy.

      2. Also, Tim Eyman would would be innefective. Western Washington doesn’t buy into his lies. The only reason his initiatives pass is because of eastern Washington voters.

      3. So you want to give the Republicans two more votes in the US Senate? The solution to the problem is some form of subarea equity. Crazy thing is, I think it would pass in Eastern Washington and fail in Seattle.

      4. So you want to give the Republicans two more votes in the US Senate?

        We could just save time, and hand that part of the state off to Idaho. ;-)

      5. Or to balance it out we could split into 3 states. Seattle, western Washington (or cascadia) and eastern Washington.

      6. Mr. Aitken: The malapportioned US Senate is a big fat problem period. The solution to that problem has been evaded for nearly 200 years. We are probably going to have to solve it soon enough.

  11. to stave off impending service cuts, but in the meantime, staff resources at the agency will be directed to prepare for them. This means staff aren’t available to plan for much else

    Let me see if I have this straight. We’re planning for a system that’s purportedly going to be 17% smaller so we need more planners. This isn’t rocket salad surgery folks. Delete the 2nd 255 that follows nose to tail during peak for starters. Metro has so misused the windfall mitigation money it’s obvious just going back to what they had before they were “saddled” with the increased funding would be an improvement. They need more planners to figure out how they did more with less four years ago?

    1. The choice is between blind hacking at the system and trying to restructure to minimize the pain. Restructuring takes huge amounts of time and effort, and in the early stages it’s planners’ time and effort.

      Planners might also be able to figure out why those 255s are bunching so badly, but I guess you’d rather just cut service.

  12. Olympia is not the problem. The Republican party and those who capitulate to their demands are the problem.

    Some of you really need to understand how to attack your political enemies. Take a lesson from Karl Rove, and learn how to f-ing steamroll the opposition. Otherwise this train is going to keep rolling backward.

    Peace.

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