Yesterday HB1180 — granting Sound Transit taxing authority to fund an ST3 measure — passed the House Transportation Committee by a 13-12 vote, advancing it to the House floor (video here, starting at 47:20 and again at 51:00). You can see the list of committee members here.
In a remarkable display of anti-tax ideological purity trumping any notions of local control, all 11 Republicans voted against the bill, including all 5 that represent part of the Sound Transit District. Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) said it was
not clear to me how much the average property owner would pay. I’m not sure when the bonds are going to be repaid from ST2 [while ST3 MVET would be in addition to that.] But the bigger problem, though we do have people and businesses that want Sound Transit in my district, is that I don’t have any guarantee. My subarea pays $13m per year for nothing. The money basically went to the Eastside to extend light rail to Bellevue and Redmond. I need a guarantee that subregion money will benefit that subregion, and I need to know how much this is going to cost.
Setting aside that “nothing” includes a significant amount of express bus service and a Link line coming ever closer to Federal Way, it is simply not true* that South King dollars have gone to fund East Link. The deferral of the only ST2 station in Federal Way is a result of collapsing South King revenues; if anything, a loan backed by East Link performance may help to restore some of the Federal Way funding. On the other hand, if Rep. Kochmar’s concerns are sincere, a little education and some assurances from ST board members that Federal Way is a core priority of ST3 would probably win some important votes.
I’m always a little nervous about giving out new taxing authority. I do believe that transit should be more of a local decision, but I do have to look at the bigger picture, because people get so focused on what they want that they don’t always look to see if there’s a better option… This bill hasn’t quite gotten over that hurdle for me yet. I’m not a hard no. I do hope it’s re-referred to finance [to look at the financing implications]. There are some folks that are an absolute no, [because] it’s going to be a huge amount of money. And will Seattle still be willing to pony up when some of us in more rural areas, when it’s our turn to get some money for road projects?
The committee considered three amendments:
MUNN 512 (Jake Fey, D-Tacoma) removed a erroneous, duplicative reference to the property tax authority, limited to 25 cents per $1,000 of value and passed by unanimous voice vote.
MUNN 518 (Mark Hargrove, R-Kent/Auburn) would have required one nonpartisan Sound Transit board member from each county elected in presidential years. Rep. Hargrove said “the system could be improved to help [people at ST]. My constituents feel frustrated that they don’t have direct input to Sound Transit. It would make their process better because there would be three folks dedicated specifically to this job.”
I’ve written before about why governance reform (i.e. a directly elected ST board) would be a bad idea. Luckily, this amendment lost a voice vote.
Finally, MUNN 517 (Orcutt) specifically restricts the new authority to Sound Transit, cutting out other counties. For Orcutt, it was in order to “make this bill truly at ST3 bill, which is the way it was billed to us.” Jeff Morris (D-Whatcom) spoke against the amendment:
No big projects ever happen without small tools. In Whatcom County, there are roughly 2.5 million people that live in the lower Fraser Valley. The Bellingham airport is the fastest-growing airport in the United States. You’ve heard examples of some of the border issues on the Whatcom County border. Constant border problems. The need for some sort of mass transit to get people from the lower mainland (pre-clearance). All those solutions can only occur with small tools at local governments’ fingertips.
The amendment passed on a voice vote. Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), who audibly voted for it, said that authority for other counties “could be a drag on a bill that could go forward this year.” and that removing it “makes the bill cleaner.”
The amendment did cost the vote of Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) on the final bill, the sole Democratic vote against, because like Rep. Morris he was interested in “another tool in the toolbox for our future in Southwest Washington.”
* ST confirms that it’s not true, and cites pages A12 and A13 of the ST2 plan as documentation.