Given the broad regional enthusiasm for transit expansion, the real question is why wouldn’t the legislature support the region’s request to tax itself to provide adequate transit? The answer is a statistically relevant national trend going back over 130 years of data: rural district measures are nearly twice as likely to pass state legislatures than urban ones. In Washington, conventional wisdom is that rural and suburban legislators (who today are mostly Republicans) will hold the Puget Sound region’s needs hostage to a transportation package that they may or may not be interested in passing, as happened during the prior term.

The legislators who take this position ignore the fact that the state rises or sinks as a whole (as does our budget). For example, what will it take to get all of the Pierce County delegation (relatively split between Democrats and Republicans) to vote as a block in favor of the transit expansion so vital to Tacoma and Pierce County? They will likely expect funding for the $2 billion completion of SR167 to the Port of Tacoma in exchange for the right of Sound Transit district residents to choose to tax themselves. But, shockingly, not even that may be enough for legislators to allow the fastest growing big city in the country to keep its economy–and the state’s tax rolls–humming.

A business with a cash cow would ensure enough investment so that it could power the business for years into the future. As far as state budgets go, that cash cow is the Seattle metropolitan region area comprised of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. This metro region—home to half the state’s population—is the source of 75% of the state’s $381 billion in economic output in 2013 with all the tax revenues that go with such an intensity of people, goods, and services.

SOURCE: 2008; OFFICE OF FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT / SECRETARY OF STATE, 2008 GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION VIA THE STRANGER

For this reason, the metro area is a net contributor to the state’s tax rolls.  King County specifically only got back 62¢ for every $1 in taxes it generated the state in 2011. Lack of alternatives to congestion is killing productivity (due to car drivers’ 37 hours per year spent stuck in traffic) and limiting job growth. Sound Transit’s service area includes 80% of the population of the three-county area, as well as an overwhelming proportion of the economic output of the area and the state. Preventing investment to keep the region moving undermines the metro economy and therefore the tax collections that help power the rest of the state.  

In addition to the indirect importance of the Puget Sound’s transportation on the state budget, there is a more direct argument. Sound Transit impacts two areas directly. First, it has employed 100,000 people—mostly in the construction industry—to build a system that will likely last us 100 years. Secondly, Sound Transit pays sales tax on its capital projects directly into the state general fund.  That money comes from taxes Sound Transit collects only from the urban parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.  This is not an insignificant sum. The state gets an average of $63 million per year from 2014 to 2023 inclusive, for a total of over half a billion dollars over ten years. By authorizing Sound Transit to build more, the state would actually be directly collecting a percentage as general fund tax revenue. ST3 could easily increase state revenues by $30 million or more per year once ST3 capital projects were in the execution phase.

Regional leaders recognize the great importance of transportation investments to the regional economy. Legislators must understand that what is good for the regional economy is also critical for the State’s economy.

95 Replies to “The Statewide Case for Sound Transit 3”

  1. Though you paint this as urban vs. rural,

    Pierce which hosts Tacoma
    Benton which hosts Tri-Cities
    Spokane which hosts Spokane
    Thurston which hosts Olympia
    Clark which hosts Vancouver

    All received revenue over tax unity.

    1. Urban vs suburban + rural would be more accurate.

      Drive about 1/2 mile outside Downtown TriCities, Spokane, or Vancouver, and it feels pretty suburban. 5 miles and the banjos come to life.

      Hard to call Olympia urban. It’s more like a small town.

      1. Personally see Olympia as already part of a region between the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, running from southern suburbs of Portland to northern ones of Vancouver BC.

        In Skane province in southern Sweden, distance similar to Seattle-Olympia is a half hour ride on short-headway hundred mile and hour electric trains. For future livery, no difference in speed purple and blue-and-white paint.

        Because except for the gang-ridden park area marked by a large old fashioned dome from more gracious days, a half hour transit trip to Seattle instead of the current two hour one (in light traffic) would complete Olympia as the state’s best place to live.

        BTW this exact project is major salient in the program of the Republic of Upper Southern Ballard, an exile movement that views our homeland’s present seizure by the real estate industry as the work of ISIS.

        Seriously, I really think that given a very large young population, a concerted effort to bring Olympia into ST3 would itself help move our state capitol into cooperation with regional transit by letting younger locals know that for quite awhile they’ve already been part of our region.

        As for the Dome gang uphill…this town is still working on problem of being able to enjoy our lovely parks without being bothered by unfortunate people who take refuge in loud alcohol-fueled yelling.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Hey, drive 5 blocks off MLK and you’ll hear banjos. That said, I’m glad to see ST extending bus service between Seattle and Oly. Not enough of a market for rail (yet), but I personally know a small handful of people making the dreadful commute between Thurston and King.

      3. Olympia is a small city, the metro is roughly 250,000. Othello is a small town. Sure that is tiny compared to NYC, LA, London, or Tokyo but so is Seattle.

      4. The solution to Olympia’s problem with gangs and chronic inebriates is to simply move their meeting place to McNeil Island.

    2. Though you paint this as urban vs. rural, ….

      Then, there’s Jefferson County.
      Tourists in Port Townsend? All those Twilight visitations at Forks?

  2. It’s curious to me that only 6 counties are net contributors, and that 5 of them are from Seattle northward (King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, and San Juan). And would Kittitas get shorted; does CWU create the deficit by sending tons of tuition $ to Olympia?

    I’m fine with subsidizing rural counties as long as they return the favor by not holding urban needs hostage. Unfortunately they usually believe they are the ones doing the subsidizing. Growing up watching the Spokane news and reading the Spokesman Review, that belief was almost an Article of Faith.

    1. I assume Whatcom and Skagit are partly due to proximity to Vancouver, so that is another “cities generate money” effect, plus the tourists coming to shop and fill their gas tanks. But it’s surprising that the southwest counties don’t show the same thing being close to Portland. Although they are pink rather than red, so that must be it. Still, why are they above 1 when Whatcom and Skagit aren’t? Is that all due to people shopping in Oregon to avoid sales tax? Is there really that much of it to go from 0.87 to 1.39? Or is it also an artefact of so many people working in Oregon, whereas few work in Canada?

    2. The problem with this map is that it’s based on what taxpayer’s put in. It doesn’t include the tax income from businesses. Eastern Washington has less business tax income that the Puget Sound. I would like to see how the business tax affects the numbers. Much of the business tax in the Puget Sound counties and cities gets funneled directly back to those counties/cities. And only a portion of that goes to the rest of the state. This is a flawed representation of the real truth.

    3. Part of my question about people working in Oregon is, I don’t know whether it’s a net benefit or a net detriment to Washington. It’s easy to see that not paying Washington sales tax hurts Washington. But if a job is in Oregon and the payroll is in Oregon but the person lives in Washington, is that bad for Washington or not?

      1. Most likely net bad, as they probably do a bit of shopping on this side of the border before heading back over. The Home Depot at the Portland Airport isn’t selling their wares to those flying to Denver.

      2. That’s exactly the reason that Clark County is $1.39. It has lots of residents who don’t work in businesses generating B&O taxes. Instead we work in Oregon (“worked” in my case) and pay (“paid”) Oregon Income taxes. Now, yes, we spent most of our money here in Washington, which of course generates retail B&O taxes and sales taxes for those who are “patriotic” and buy on this side of the river.

        But if the tech jobs that so many of us have/had were over here, the B&O taxes would be enormous. We used to have several large tech firms in Vancouver, and we weren’t so dependent on Puget Sound then. But most of them closed or moved away. Just in the past six months or so, two have announced they are moving from Portland over here: Banfield Pet Hospital (which is really a tech company believe it or not) and Integra Telecom. So maybe things are looking up.

        We need more jobs here now that the CRC replacement is at the bottom of the river.

      3. Bad for Washington because of tax free shopping in Oregon and income tax stays in Oregon. Good for Washington in that salary is mostly spent in Washington, ie, housing, property taxes, food & etc.

    4. Good to be able to discuss this point with someone intelligent and with direct knowledge. Like with most other irritating public subsidies, though, my take is pretty constant:

      Cure is to put the subsidized people, and places, in a self-supporting position where no subsidies are needed. Infuriating and intractable reaction is hallmark system of place that once had an economy but for about forty years has not.

      First symptom of disease is that young people leave for good reasons, to be replaced by generally wealthier older people. With many other residents unable to find work for lack of industry, or to leave for lack of money.

      Next symptom being economy based on tourism, retirement funds, and methamphetamine. People in first and third categories don’t elect any legislators.

      So real lasting progress on any subject, and most especially public transit, at the State level depends on finding ways to re-industrialize in modern and beneficial ways the whole area of the state indicated in red. Lord, I’ve always hated those colors that encourage split politics more than they describe them.

      Good color indicator for necessary statewide change? At roadside coffee stands across the state baristas will ask you: “Do you want that ristretto?” Brown America will soon include the whole country- beginning of the revolution.

      E fantastico!

      Mark

  3. I wish Washington would figure out that funding going directly to a transit operator is always going to be an uphill battle. Legislatures and voters are often suspicious of transit funding, usually thinking that it is merely for driver salary raises. It’s only to get worse in this region, as we end up with two transit agencies seeking funding rather than one. A segment of the voting public interprets two major agencies as redundancy so they support one but not the other or hold off support until both agencies have a unified process.

    I continue to plead for an independent funding and programming agency that is for all modes. That’s what California does, and they have a much higher referenda win rate.

    I would also look at Salt Lake City and Phoenix to see how they get their public support. Those are more conservative areas that seem to have an easier time.

    The current strategies in Olympia are clearly a big fail! Let’s quit blaming it on other parts of the state. Let’s instead see how we as a region are proposing and presenting our funding strategy all wrong. Our internal system is a failure and rather than be willing to revisit it, we love to make it some sort of ultimatum then pout when we don’t get what we want.

    1. This is post is so wrong I’m not sure where to start.

      Washington State is 49th in the nation in terms of state funding for transit operations. We don’t fund transit in this state and our agencies haven’t been asking for State funding.

      What they have been asking for is tax authority so that they can tax themselves to fund their own transit. And when other regions of the state hold our ability to fund ourselves hostage to get us to buy them more stuff they should be called out for it.

      Especially when they are holding our tax authority hostage in order to get even more subsidies from us.

      1. I should clarify a bit. The California “independent” funding agencies are countywide agencies. They are not operators. Many of the urban ones still go ahead and grant large proportions of their revenue to transit operators. Here in Washington, it’s different; operators directly ask for the authorization, and that’s proven to be structurally harder to get through the legislature as you (Seattleite) recognize.

        Even red state Georgia allowed regional transportation funding votes a few years ago. Their very partisan legislature allowed each region to develop and put a locally-developed regional multi-modal program with a local option tax on the ballot. While it failed in Atlanta, it did pass in three regions.

        Pitching a funding option directly for a transit operator in one region is always politically harder than pitching a flexible transportation funding option that could be implemented anywhere in the state. For example, I’m sure a Eastern Washington legislator would be less opposed if he envisioned his picture in front of a needed, small road construction project in his backyard that got funded from a local option tax that he allowed, then got approved in his home county or region.

      2. Case and point: We’ll give you tax authority from a separate ballot measure that has no guarantee whatsoever, but you *HAVE TO* pass our roads package first that will benefit you negatively. Feed the beast first! ;)

        Heck no, rural Washington. Gives what we want only for ourselves, or get bumpkins.

      3. Steven

        They don’t need to “get” any more bumpkins. If you get my meaning….

        That was a most excellent “auto-correct”.

    2. I doubt it has much to do with agency-operators or multiple agencies. It has more to do with taxes bad, unionized public-sector salaries bad, transit unnecessary. I doubt if people in other counties even know whether Metro or ST operate their own buses or outsource it., or care much either way.

    3. “Let’s quit blaming it on other parts of the state”. Republican’s are generally more likely to vote down public transit. Republican’s are generally more likely to be from less dense parts of the state. ergo blame is where blame should be.

  4. My problem with ST is one-fold: It doesn’t help Seattle residents. In fact, it encourages people to move to the edge of suburbs. It’s faster to get from Downtown Seattle to Issaquah or Kirkland, than it is to get from Downtown to central Magnolia. Sure, the bus times may not show it, but once you count the number of buses during rush hour that just don’t show up, or show up 20+ minutes late, or are full and turning away people — it takes longer to get to Magnolia. This is why I have to drive every day. I actually have time windows where I need to be places, and Metro within Seattle is just too unreliable.

    I actually resent paying so much for ST, when it mainly benefits people who aren’t paying into it, and for that reason, I’m not voting them another penny until Seattle residents can get around easier.

    1. You won’t vote to build more Seattle transit until ST builds more Seattle transit?

      That makes total sense.

    2. Their first project was a (mostly) grade-separated rail line with all but two of its stops in Seattle.

      Their next project is a totally grade-separated rail line with all but three of its stops in Seattle.

      There will almost certainly be another one or two grade-separated rail lines in the ST3 package with ALL their stops in Seattle.

      1. This issue has been discussed enough times that it does no one any good to feign ignorance of the point he’s making. You don’t have to agree with him to understand that it’s a valid point.

        It is offensive that Seattle taxpayers are on the hook for:
        – every inch of trackage, plus a low-priority station, to the shore of Lake Washington
        – miles of express highway trackage, with more low-priority stations, to the Snohomish border
        – all future operating costs along lines of more use to commuters than residents

        …in exchange for which we get:
        – a handful of subway stops that flaunt their terrible access penalties and hostility to multi-modal connections
        – possibly the widest stop-spacing through built urban areas of any subway on earth (seriously, wider even than BART or the RER)
        – zero future-proofing whatsoever at construction sites for future linkages
        – reclassification of Graham so as to render its reinstatement a far heftier project
        – the total fucking of First Hill, plus a consolation streetcar that might just prove the worst rail project ever built
        – discourse that treats the “regional mission” as forever paramount; treatment of distant spindles as inevitable and of further urban investments as contingent
        – heightened barrier to entry for any urban-scaled proposal, which must always be judged by its service relationship to the regional lines and “regional mission”, or amenability to being extended across boundaries
        – general disdain for the concept that getting from one area of the city to another, sans voiture, should be as easy and spontaneous as parking a car in a lot and riding to a job three cities away.

        The commenter isn’t being parochial. I’d estimate that half to 2/3 of this city will see virtually no benefit from the money it has so far paid into Sound Transit coffers — even after U-Link and North Link open. Poor designs and the tangible effects of anti-urban bias are not about to yield life-changing access for most, even when headed to parts of the city the line claims to “serve”.

        Sound Transit is an urban-hostile organization. It does no one any good to mask that.

      2. Of course, the flip side is that routes like the 545 and 550 are paid for entirely by east subarea funds, even though a lot of Seattle residents ride those buses.

      3. Of course, the flipside to the flipside is that ST’s express-bus program is a drop in the bucket compared to its capital projects. Though the “distance-über-alles” bias of each certainly informs the other.

      4. Even if the Link network was 100% designed with the mobility needs of Seattle in mind there are neighborhoods which wouldn’t see much benefit. Places like Magnolia, Laurelhurst, and Arbor heights.

      5. Even places not directly served by Link will see a benefit, as Metro will be able to shift service hours from routes that overlap Link to ones that can feed into it. The problem is that many of those neighborhoods won’t see it like that.

    3. What about the $5 or so billion worth of light rail investments within the City of Seattle? Does providing reliable transit for those living in the U District, Wallingford, Roosevelt, Ravenna, Northgate, Maple Leaf, Lake City, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, Mt. Baker, Madrona, Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, and Downtown count for nothing. Just because it doesn’t serve you doesn’t mean it’s not useful and doesn’t have utility for the city and region as a whole.

      Answer me this: why should my Wallingford-living-butt vote for a Ballard-to-Seattle line via Interbay, which would serve Magnolia? Doesn’t benefit me a single bit.

      1. Yes, within a Seattle neighborhood, I would imagine that, the majority of rush hour traffic is to an from a major destination, like employment centers. On weekends also to sporting arenas, entertainment and shopping complexes.

        Intra-neighborhood travel is going to be a much lower component and at some hours of the day more easily accomplished by taxi or car!

    4. Seattle funds ST 1 and ST 2. Getting Seattle to Fun ST 3-17 will be difficult as the Seattle projects are completed.
      If Seattle doesn’t fund additional projects, and property values soar to a point the lower tier income workers can’t live in Seattle, they better live somewhere or everything crumbles.
      We also need to start earmarking 1% of today’s funding package for replacement 100 years down the road. Starting projects when broke is difficult enough. Replacing the system after 100 years of inflation will be a real back-breaker.

      1. Why do you think that Link will have to be “replaced” after 100 years. There are tube lines in London which were dug in the 1870’s still carrying traffic. True, the cars and stations are relatively tiny, but they still function. It’s easy enough to replace trackage and vehicles along the way. Railroads do it every day.

      2. The youngest of the major railroad bridges in Portland is 102 years old. Much of the right of way between Puget Sound and here is older than that (and obtaining that is a huge expense). Right of way generally doesn’t have an expiration date.

      3. The Seattle projects are * not* completed, as it still leaves large swaths of the city stuck with the same old buses as before. Build Link to Ballard and people in Seattle just might vote for ST 3. Do nothing except extend Link to Everett and Tacoma, of course it’s not going to win the Seattle vote.

    5. “It doesn’t help Seattle residents.”

      Wrong. ST Express helps me get to Bellevue regularly, and Lynnwood and Federal Way occasionally. It helps other Seattlites get to Issaquah, Redmond, Everett, and Tacoma regularly. asdf takes it to Redmond every day for work, and to Issaquah frequently to go hiking. Before ST these 30-60 minute trips took 60-120 minutes.

      “In fact, it encourages people to move to the edge of suburbs.”

      They already lived in the suburbs. The express routes came after the people, not vice-versa. And if you’re really talking the edge of the suburbs (Snoqualmie, Bonney Lake, Smokey Point, Lake Stevens), it takes a long time from there too, enough to think twice before moving to a long commute. Only a minority of suburbanites live so far out; most live closer to the major stations (Issaquah, Tacoma Dome).

      “It’s faster to get from Downtown Seattle to Issaquah or Kirkland, than it is to get from Downtown to central Magnolia.”

      That is a problem, but it’s a reason to improve inter-neighborhood transit in Seattle, not take it away from Kirkland.

      1. It’s also worth noting that Metro did try to fix the central Magnolia problem with a proposed restructure a couple of years ago. The central Magnolia problem doesn’t have to do with inadequate funding, but rather the continued existence of legacy routes (Route 24) over more direct routing. And the legacy routing survives because certain existing users strongly advocate for the status quo at the expense of hypothetical users such as Rick Smart. That is a political process that has nothing to do with funding or ST.

      1. What’s funny is that the vision of ST leadership is a whole lot closer to a Bailo Utopia than anyone at this blog ever seems to want to admit. Because like Bailo’s rantings, the approach is unsupportable, counterproductive, and crazy.

        And that’s the vision behind which we’re supposed to coalesce, lest we be “denied” urban transit that actual supports urban needs for all eternity?

      2. Rick makes good sense, and likely will resonate with larger shares of Seattle voters. Both ST and Metro now collect about equal shares of taxation from within the Seattle city limits.
        Both have a primary mission of being transit agencies.
        One remains flush with cash building BART2 to the burbs with few new stops within the city.
        One is hanging on by it’s fingernails to NOT cannibalize more service withing the city, let alone address overloads or build any new capital projects of merit.
        Rick has but one wallet.and has every right to stop the hemorrhaging of cash out of it for either a system that will never get close to where he needs it, or a system that has quit serving his needs for basic mobility.
        Both agencies get a failing grade from his perspective, thus “not a penny more”
        Kinda like Jonathon’s statewide message to eastern WA.

      3. Oh, and let’s not forget about the third agency getting back into the transit business – Seattle DOT. How many agencies does it take to change a lightbulb?

      4. “How many agencies does it take to change a lightbulb?”

        As many as it takes to get around the state’s utter refusal to let us devise a revenue scheme that funds one agency adequately.

      5. “few new stops within the city”

        South Seattle: 8 stations. Central and north Seattle: 6 and possibly a 7th, and that’s not even counting the DSTT.

      6. I would love to let DP be Seattle transit czar and David Lawson be suburban transit czar, with full power to design, tax, and build a complete network. Wake me up in thirty years when that’s a possibility. In the meantime we must do something, and that means the best that the politicians can agree on, and making sure it’s not all-surface.

      7. I don’t get why it’s about politics. Why isn’t it about social science and urban planning and transit engineering? They aren’t foreign concepts, they’re not sinister plots against cars, farmers, east siders, recluses or right wingers, they’re just thoughtful, methodical approaches to dealing with society’s needs. Our state’s politicians either don’t understand the processes or they don’t care. And why should they? It’s not their job. They don’t take transit or live in Seattle. They are as far removed from relevant as an involved party could be. So why do we let them have the power to make these decisions instead of an agency that’s designed for it?

  5. I wonder if we could bring this up as part of a conversation about more local tax authority for transit for all counties. Instead of just giving Sound Transit authority to ask voters for more taxing authority, we should give Sound Transit more authority and at the same time give a little more authority to all counties to individually ask for more transit in their own local area… and they could partner with a regional body (like Sound Transit) if it makes sense for them to do so.

    Aren’t the folks in favor of less government more in favor of more local control? I could be wrong…

    1. Those who claim to be in favor of small government aren’t actually in favor of real small, localized government. Usually, they use the weight of the larger government body to force all the citizenry to “share” their single perspective. Many initiatives put forth by our favorite man, Timmy Eyman, are a great example of this. Such as using the voting bloc of Washington to pry open our local HOV lanes or limiting tax increases or forcing a supermajority (how democratic) for tax increases.

      To summarize:
      “Keep your big government hands off my Medicare!”

      1. THIS. What they really mean by “small government” and “local choice” is “we want to make it impossible to ever have functioning government at all–burn down the fire department!”

      2. More fairly, most people that want “small government” have zero experience with people outside their middle-to-upper-class suburbs or their rural tracts and assume that “big government” is ALWAYS a problem for EVERYTHING. All they see of government is their tax bills, high-profile dysfunctional agencies, and high-profile corrupt politicians. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

        In general, the political discourse in this country has devolved into talking points and “principles” that make no sense and are rarely truly consistent, and are often in direct opposition to the other side’s “principles”, hence why Congress can’t get anything done. This is especially the case on the right, but Democrats are also prone to throwing government at every problem and that every invocation of capitalism and the free market is just a scheme to enrich the 1%.

      3. “or forcing a supermajority (how democratic) for tax increases”

        Which is always inevitably accomplished by a measure passing with a simple majority that falls far short of the proposed supermajority for the sort of laws that Mr. Eyman personally does not like.

    2. Ultimately, people want service…they way they do from private enterprise.

      I guess that the number one reason for the failure of Prop 1 is that people felt they were being asked to pay for something, that they had already fairly funded, and had still not gotten results for!

      Would you pay your Internet provider more money if he had promised 20 years ago to install high speed optical fiber, and then continues each year to ask for price increases, while your service is still as slow and unreliable as ever?

      1. To answer that non sequester question: Yes–Comcast.

        People don’t know what they want. They don’t even know what they get. You’re asking that they make rational decisions based upon what they think they want and what they think they get, and that’s just silly.

    3. The Puget Sound counties asked for that last year too, some transit-tax authority for all counties, so that Skagit and Kitsap and Spokane could expand their transit too, because they’re all far behind where they should be. The legislature never got around to that. But it would be worth reminding the Pugetopolis mayors and executives that they supported this with a unified voice before and should do so again.

  6. good article.

    interesting one of your arguments for (increased sales tax) would be negated if they pass an MCC requested transportation reform of eliminating the sales tax on those jobs.

  7. Is there any chance there is updated data for the distribution graphic? I think that is such a powerful argument.

    1. And I’d love a politically neutral version of it, too. Shade it for how much it gives/receives rather than political affiliation. That would make it an even more powerful tool.

      1. Why? The point of the graphic is that the Republican counties of the state are, by and large, welfare bums.

  8. Link hit 39,000 daily boarding in August, that’s gotta be a strong argument for ST3, the existing line has been growing at around 15% for almost a year.

  9. I have long thought that we need an initiative that enforces spending where taxes are collected, unless by a super majority. This would need to be carefully drawn up, and with consideration for the security net for the disadvantaged and disabled. My hopes would be that the “takers” counties would then have to negotiate with metropolitan areas to receive those subsidies that now act so entitled about.

    1. Two problems:

      1. A large highway is built between two distant big cities. Most of the lane-miles are in the rural areas between them, so that’s where most of the construction money is spent. Most of the VMT take place in these rural areas, too, so that’s where most of the maintenance money is spent. But lots of the the drivers live in one of the two big cities; they live, shop, and buy gas in those cities, not in the places they drive through. And not in the places their goods travel through. Assigning benefit by geography alone is specious (something that comes out in discussions of ST’s sub-area equity, too).

      2. One major state expenditure is education. Educational opportunity for everyone is one of the pillars of our democracy. Cutting education funding to places without high tax receipts is a really bad idea.

      1. Sure, but how much is educational opportunity compromised in donor regions, as a result of having to subsidize areas whose low tax receipts directly stem from their electoral refusal to support sustainable tax policies?

      2. Education is of course considered of ‘paramount’ importance by the constitution, so is protected. What of course is not protected is the ability of the state to maintain tax revenue. This is where I see a carefully worded initiative helping. I am not unhappy for the most part with the ‘taker’ counties getting the subsidies, just angry with their not supporting taxes to enable them.

      3. RobLL,

        I live in one of the most egregious “taker” counties: Clark. No, our ratio doesn’t come near to that of the wheat counties out east with their tiny populations and long distances between people, but we have 70,000 folks who commute to Portland daily, most to high-paying jobs in downtown or the tech corridor. [Why would anyone commute to Oregon and pay the income tax unless the pay was significantly better than he or she can get here in Washington?]

        The fact is that we have a nearly $10,000/year higher average income than does Multnomah County, and we’re even a little higher than Washington County which has a significant Hispanic population around Hillsboro, But do we vote to fully fund our schools? Hell no! We let Puget Sound do it for us. And then most of the commuters whine about paying Oregon Income Tax. We’re a craven bunch of ingrates and so is much of the rest of the state.

      4. Al,

        Your point about rural highways is well made, but the truth is, they’re already built. Since the opening of the North Cross-State Highway in the 1970’s there has been no conceivable route un-served in the state, unless one thinks a major highway across the shoulder of Mt. Adams is a good idea (calm down; I don’t!)

        Yes, maintaining what we have is an issue, but without constant widenings and other upgrades in the urban areas, there would be enough fuel tax revenue to maintain the rural system.

        The capital expenditures in urban areas should be paid for by user fees. People don’t like tolls so maybe an annual mileage fee for urban regions would be better. It would cause less diversion to local arterials while still collecting funds for capital improvements.

      5. Thr rural counties grow our food, and agriculture doesn’t make a large profit in this era, so there will need to be some level of subsidies. But as Anakandros says, the small-town highways are already built. Luxury freeways for sprawl residents (not farmers) are just that: luxuries that they can ask the private sector to build. They do believe in private-sector solutions and low taxes, right?

      6. “The capital expenditures in urban areas should be paid for by user fees. People don’t like tolls so maybe an annual mileage fee for urban regions would be better. It would cause less diversion to local arterials while still collecting funds for capital improvements.”

        What if I don’t have a need for increased commute capacity on the freeways?

        Tolls are collected directly from the people who are demanding the increase.

        A VMT fee doesn’t discern between my local or off-peak driving, so why should I pay for that capital improvement, when I’d much rather see that invested in a more sustainable rail system?

        Now if you’re suggesting a votable Roads Only package, that I would like to see happen. (the vote).

      7. Jim,

        If the legislature can be strong-armed, coerced, or convinced to allow municipalities and counties to tax themselves to support road and transit capital projects, I think that the ideal combination would be using property taxes to support transit capital improvements, a VMT to fund roadway capital improvements, and the sales tax to pay for transit operations.

        Let me say why. Transit availability directly affects property values; a property within a 1/4 mile walk of a high capacity, reliable transit station is worth at least 25% more than the same property located in a transit-neutral location. It makes sense to capture some of that wealth-creation.

        Road capital projects are equally directly related to the miles driven with the urban area they serve. And to your objection that you don’t drive on freeways, well, if you drive on a full arterial you’re going to persuade some other driver to divert to the freeway in order to get around you.

        And thirdly, sales tax for transit operation makes sense because transit does provide the greatest benefit for low-income people, and for them sales tax is a greater proportion of their income. So the most likely users of the system are somewhat more likely to pay for its operation.

        But everyone benefits from the low-income service workers that the transit system delivers to their point of service, so having everyone pay a little bit of their server’s bus ride to the restaurant makes sense too.

      8. Mike,

        Unfortunately, private enterprise doesn’t have the right of eminent domain necessary to assemble rights of ways for luxury freeways. Only the state can do that. And it’s been shown over and over again (check out the debacle down in Orange County) that urban freeways built assuming tolls will pay completely for their operation are usually a bust.

        Yes, the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana Turnpikes, and the New York State Thruway were all smashing successes because they provided users a dramatically better traveling experience than the mostly two lane roads they superseded. And tolled water crossings are very often quite successful because there are no practical alternatives for travelers.

        But oridinary urban tollways have never been that profitable — just look at the results of the SR167 HOT lane locally — so when it comes time to choose the private sector operator, some of the most stomach-turning graft in recent American governmental history occurs.

      9. Anandakos says:

        Let me say why. Transit availability directly affects property values; a property within a 1/4 mile walk of a high capacity, reliable transit station is worth at least 25% more than the same property located in a transit-neutral location. It makes sense to capture some of that wealth-creation.

        On the other hand, significant road projects may also be a detriment to property values. Sure, some commercial properties do well along freeways, but once the freeway gets to be a huge, obnoxious obstacle the property values stagnate or drop.

        From what I have seen, Seattle isn’t quite as badly impacted as some other cities are by this. Some Portland examples (because that is what I am familiar with): Interstate 5 though north Portland has some significantly depressed areas. Interstate 405 around downtown had decades of far slower growth around it compared to to the far more crowded and expensive core of downtown. A few areas along I-205 have done well, but most of the areas within 1/2 of a mile or so of the freeway aren’t doing that well. Powell Blvd / Highway 26 through southeast Portland is an example of suburban decadence for almost its entire length, and it isn’t due to the lack of traffic.

        I have much less experience in Seattle with knowing where these areas are. However, from what I have seen some of these areas along I-5, especially south of Seattle (ie, Federal Way) seem to suffer from this same phenomena.

      10. “Unfortunately, private enterprise doesn’t have the right of eminent domain necessary to assemble rights of ways for luxury freeways.”

        So they buy the land from willing property owners. The people who don’t want to pay taxes are often the same ones who don’t like eminent domain. And if they want to drive on the freeway, they must understand that it has to go somewhere, and that it will be most effective if it goes in a straight line. So they might be willing to move for the freeway, if they think it’s so vital and they’ll use it so much.

        What? They want it to go through somebody else’s property? Tell me again, how important is the freeway to them?

    2. I could get behind this. I also wonder what the chances of success would be for a state-wide initiative that would allow local governments to raise their own tax cap by local referendum. I don’t mind subsidizing the rest of the state, but I find it offensive that they can prevent us from taxing ourselves despite the subsidies.

      I assume it would fail in most of the state, but most of the population is in areas that would benefit.

      1. I really really want a state-wide initiative allowing local governments to set their own taxes with voter approval without any need for the state’s approval. Don’t know if it would pass, but it could be framed as an anti-Olympia, pro-voter-control initiative. Put up billboards throughout eastern WA quoting Rodney Tom explaining that the reason Seattle must not be allowed to raise their own taxes is so that Seattle voters will get out to vote for packages raising state-wide taxes.

  10. This post fundamentally misunderstands the mentality of Eastern Washington. It’s not about facts and data, it’s about a belief system where they fundamentally believe that they are the ones getting screwed. Facts get rejected when they don’t align with their perception of reality, and politicians don’t get re-elected for running counter it.

    It has always been said about Washington politics that, “it is east vs west and everyone against Seattle.”

    Want to get something pro-Seattle passed at the state level. You need to find a way to force it, and you need to find a way to give eastern Wa politicians enough political cover to vote for it without appearing to be pro-Seattle

    1. The way to force it is for Seattle to curtain toll access to the city. Toll Aurora, Greenwood, Lake City Way, Fifteenth Northeast, Ambaum, First and Fourth South, the First and Sixteenth Avenue South bridges, East Marginal, SR 99, MLK, Renton, and Rainier at the city limits. While one can’t toll Interstates 5 and 90 one can toll the off ramps right at the transition to the municipal roadways.

      Put a tax on every commercial parking space in the city excepting those reserved for short term retail parking and finally use the city’s option for a “head” or employment tax with a rebate on its city B&O tax for the in-city resident employees.

    2. Putting tolls at the city limits misunderstands the problem. The enemy is not White Center or Burien or Bellevue or Shoreline. As the near suburbs grow their concerns become more like Seattle’s. All the mayors and county councils in Pugetopolis sent a united message to Olympia: more regional and local transit, for all counties.

      1. Mike,

        I understand that; the inner suburbs are not the bad guys. BUT, charging for access to itself is Seattle’s most powerful tool. All these things of course should be done only until the legislature comes to its senses and realizes that Seattle is the egg laying goose on which their omelettes depend.

      2. Mike,

        As a continuation, the Mayors and councils may support region-wide transit, but the Republican members of the State Senate and House of Representatives vote the Republican Party and “coalition” lines consistently. And that means denying local governments the right to vote for their own infrastructure independently.

        In other words, they dance to the tune of the anti-Seattle folks in Eastern and Southwestern Washington. They need to feel some heat from their constituents either to change parties or at least to vote against the wheat mafia on transportation.

    3. True, the perception by those outside King county is that they are paying for everything inside King county no matter what level of government it actually is at.

      Light Rail, Metro, 520, the stadiums, the third runway, bike lanes, the 99 tunnel, public housing, the convention center,c etc. It is almost amusing the extent to which the rest of the state feels they are paying for Seattle while we pay nothing, facts be damned.

      The imperative for legislators in most of the state is to say ‘NO’ to King County and especially Seattle.

    4. Let me put this bluntly: eastern Washington simply doesn’t have enough votes or representatives to make a lick of difference in the state legislature. If they vote selfishly, whatever, who cares, they aren’t anywhere near a majority.

      Your problem is the Seattle/Tacoma suburbs, and to a lesser extent the towns along the western side of the state. They often vote with eastern Washington for no good reason, when their interests lie with Seattle. And they actually have representatives.

      Clark County (Vancouver WA) is the worst, probably because it’s filled with people who are trying to freeload off of the amenities of Portland OR without paying for them.

      1. Nathanael,

        The Senators and Representatives from Eastern Washington may not be in the majority, but as you say, the Republican Senators and Reprsentatives of the Puget Sound suburbs vote with them, giving them the majority.

        And one other thing is important; because they have very few young people and almost no minorities in their districts, they serve thirty or forty years once initially elected. So by seniority they become the party leadership and committee chairs.

        The Republican representatives in suburban King County come and go more rapidly, so they don’t rise to the chairpersonships. Those positions matter to the flow of legislation.

  11. There are things ST could do to make their service more relevant to Seattle urban riders, although the majority of their service is focuses on Suburban connections to urban areas. I think one of things they could do is extend the 57x 59x routes from their existing terminus just short of Amazonville, up through SLU to terminate around Mercer street. This would ease capacity shortcomings on the 98 and 70 as people would not be required to transfer to complete their journey through downtown. Metro might want to look at doing that as well.

    Further, some time should be spent studying better connections to the eastside in future plans. while I’m sure Bellevue LINK will do a good job when it opens, it would be nice to have a Lakewood-Tacoma-Bellevue Sounder train, with connection to LINK to Redmond at the same station. This service would be full and at capacity from train 1. It would not be an hugely expensive project to bring the eastside rail line back into service. Rebuild the missing piece over I-90, full re-lay of track and installation of CTC/PTC signals. Perhaps even some double track, and improvements to the connection with BNSF. a wag would be $700 million for the infrastructure, plus cars and locomotives on top of that. One thing about ST 3 that concerns me, is there seems to be again a LOT of “new” projects, rather than improving and expanding existing services, services which are in very high demand as it is.

    1. The ERC is a dog of a project that would make Sounder North look good. There simply isn’t much demand for commuter services from South King and Pierce County to Bellevue and Redmond. Otherwise the current ST express service would see more use.

      1. “The ERC is a dog of a project”

        Correct. And I say this as someone who lives less than a block from the ERC and would probably be within a couple minutes’ walk of any Kirkland station built on it. It’s a fantastic bike corridor and a terrible passenger rail corridor. It just doesn’t get close enough to where people need to go.

      2. You might be able to make it viable if using something along the lines of diesel light rail vehicles operating hourly service. Say, something like this:
        http://zierke.com/web-page/foaming/first/picpages/eurobahn_bei_fiegenburg.html
        (note this line has a lack of urban settlement along it that is a bit worse than the ERC).
        With bus lanes coming on I-405 any advantage of a separate rail line would be lost though.

        A better place to consider for diesel light rail would probably be DuPont to Tacoma, so that express buses no longer have to torture themselves with getting to and from Interstate 5.

      3. Glenn, the issue is as David says, it simply doesn’t get very close to where people want to go.

        With 405 HOV lanes there isn’t much reason to go to the expense of providing rail service.

      4. There is far more of everything along the ERC than on the line in those photos. It’s just a matter of making the investment match the ridership. If there is much less ridership potential, then there is no need for a vast hundreds of millions investment.

        It’s also close enough to East Link that connectors could be built. That’s one advantage to using light weight cars as opposed to full scale commuter cars: you could run them on Link lines if desired.

        There are, however, much better things to invest in right now.

  12. “The answer is a statistically relevant national trend going back over 130 years of data: rural district measures are nearly twice as likely to pass state legislatures than urban ones. ”

    For well over 80 of those years, this was due to MALAPPORTIONMENT, where rural districts had far more votes in the legislature than their populations justified.

    This was ended with the Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims decisions in 1962 and 1964 — but they weren’t fully implemented until the 1970 census, and even after that, gerrymandering was used to keep the incumbent rural factions in power. (Gerrymandering is *still* being used for this purpose in the NY State Senate, infamously, though due to the endless shift of population to the cities, it’s stopped working and that faction has now resorted to bribing state senators to switch parties.)

    So it’s kind of obvious why this has been true. And it should stop being true as soon as you get fair districting. If “rural measures are easier to pass” is the old “rule of thumb”, it should be thrown out, because it’s an artifact of malapportionment.

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