On Monday from 6-9pm, the Washington State Senate’s listening tour has its Seattle stop. Note that the location has changed – it will now be at the First Presbyterian Church on 8th, on the west corner of First Hill.
Originally, this ‘listening tour‘ didn’t have a stop in Seattle at all – even though it’s jointly led by a Democrat and a Republican. That should be your first indicator that our legislature is heavily biased toward suburban and rural interests.
So what should we say? Most organizational advocacy lately has been for “transit in a state package.” I submit to you that asking for transit as part of a state package is a really bad idea.
First, the last package we saw contained no projects in Seattle. Nothing. All of our gas tax would be shipped out of the city for suburban and rural projects (probably part of why they didn’t want to include us in the tour). We have obvious needs – the 520 project is severely underfunded and has overrun by hundreds of millions already, SR-99 is already in the red, and our ferry terminal needs replacement, to say nothing of our local arterials, to which the state used to contribute.
Let’s say we get a state package that includes, say, a reborn Columbia River Crossing highway, expansion of US 395 in Spokane, and expansions of SRs 167 and 509 – and no money to fix state funding problems for their projects in Seattle. The last thing we want is to have the *authority to tax ourselves* tied to a package that exports our tax dollars to induce climate change and sprawl.
Remember “Roads and Transit”? A local measure that was more than half rail transit failed. The best case scenario the state House passed provides a couple hundred million for transit, and that had no prayer of passing the Senate. We don’t need to take that offer.
Here’s the real deal: The county has the ability to fix this funding problem, today. They could run a property tax measure, stabilizing Metro funding. It’s not as progressive as the value-based motor vehicle excise tax we’re asking for from the legislature, but it’s much more progressive than cutting service. As an emergency backup, the city of Seattle could do the same thing, as could many of our suburban cities.
In fact, Seattle and King County could go to ballot at the same time, proactively increasing transit funding if both passed. We could fund Metro to a level that let them institute a low income fare, and even much of the Seattle Transit Master Plan.
While we’re playing nice, we really have the state over a barrel. An alliance of anti-tax and pro-environment forces could stop a highway expansion package in its tracks, and we can solve our own transit funding issues if we really have to.
So on Monday, join us at First Presbyterian – and let’s tell the state it’s their last chance to fix this. They think they’re holding us hostage (much like the Republicans at the national level are doing), but this is their last chance to provide authority for Metro, likely with direct funding for operations, as nearly every other state provides – or we take away their leverage over Seattle voters to expand highways.