On Thursday, I wrote about the State Senate listening tour’s Seattle stop on Monday (Bartolome Day), and why we’re in a much better position than they think. I want to add more detail about what the Senate is trying to do, and how we can do an end run around them.
The Republicans (and the two turncoat Democrats) have outlined a “ten point” scheme (PDF) they want implemented as part of any transportation package.
Most of these are designed to privatize operations, or cut pay and benefits for workers. The last one is the worst for transit: it “would make changes streamlining the state’s existing regional transit authority boards.” Hmm… where have we heard that before? It’s yet another attempt to make the Sound Transit board directly elected, and susceptible to attacks from moneyed interests. Given the political pressures that exist today, suburban ST board members could even direct ST money for road projects, as has been a desire of some legislators in the past.
The State House would surely reject legislation like this, but the concessions necessary to get the current Senate to vote for a package would be disastrous. As Mike Lindblom pointed out on twitter yesterday, I even missed how bad it got this year:
— Michael C. Lindblom (@MikeLindblom) October 11, 2013
Now, honestly, I’d like to see the portion of I-5 in the city replaced with part of a regional and interstate rail network, but in the meantime, we do need to keep it from falling apart.
Unfortunately, the relationship Seattle Senators have with the rest of the state is similar to that of abuse victims. They beg for scraps when they have the voter support to pull the Senate Democrats into the 21st century, much as the minority Tea Party has taken control of the US House Republicans. Senate Democratic leadership hasn’t been shifting the debate, just building consensus, resulting in a move farther and farther toward highway expansion.
This lack of leadership hasn’t just allowed a shift to the right in policy – it also cost the Democrats their Senate majority, preventing any fix for Metro this year. Without a majority, the only package we’re going to see from the state is one we have to oppose.
We should not be asking the legislature for a special session, and shouldn’t be tying transit funding authority to a statewide package. Seattle and King County have to step up and take care of this ourselves.
Most voters are never going to know the whole story of the County first spending more than $100 million from their capital budget to prevent cuts for a while, then getting a 2 year congestion reduction charge from the legislature, a fee that soon expires. What most people see is that Metro is in constant crisis, and constant crisis desensitizes voters and erodes support.
With a property tax measure likely requiring 60% to pass countywide, there’s a high risk in leaving this to the county alone. If they thought they could have passed a stable funding measure with the tools they have now, they would have done so two years ago – it’s possible, even likely, that they can’t.
Fortunately, we have a very transit supportive electorate in Seattle, even in special elections.
People are starting to figure this out, too. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition formed around asking for a Seattle ballot measure – and as Seattle has around 2/3 of Metro service, saving that would be much better than nothing.
We could also do more than just save service. As WSTC calls for, we could fund in-city routes back to pre-recession levels. We could even fund a Low Income Fare to help undo the damage done by repeated fare increases.
There’s a political benefit, too. If Seattle saves our service, but the eastside can’t, we get serious leverage to oust Senators on that side of the lake. By the 2015 session, we could win back a Senate majority and fix things properly countywide.
In the event Metro gets a new revenue source or sales tax closes the gap, the city measure would also have a fallback plan. As Metro revenue increases, city funds would be reprogrammed into the Transit Master Plan. Suddenly, we’d have funding for faster and more reliable bus service, the downtown connector and Broadway extension, and even BRT on Madison – and potentially more of our streetcar network.
A vote would need to be soon – likely April of next year, as it takes time to plan service changes and even to get the revenue from a measure after it passes. If the state doesn’t perform a miracle this fall, and the county doesn’t have a clear path to success, we won’t have time to lay the groundwork later – we need to build a proposal now.
Transit supporters – will you join us?