Here’s Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) explaining how he came up with $11 billion in new tax authorization for Sound Transit (over 15 years) instead of the $15 billion ST asked for (at 18:20 if the Youtube link doesn’t work correctly).

Well the theory was they asked for 15. From my limited knowledge, people usually ask for more than they want. In various discussions we heard some lower numbers from time to time. I would say that what we put forth exceeded some of the lower numbers we heard. We thought it was a balance between the 15 that they wanted and some of these lower numbers.

I found this interesting for several reasons. One is that it’s a solid illustration of the Overton Window, and can only encourage future requests to ascend to the stratosphere.

If one accepts the principle that Olympia must parsimoniously mete out local taxing authority, which I don’t, his reply makes a lot of sense given a lot of Sound Transit’s messaging. ST officials have frequently suggested the mix of taxes allowed “flexibility,” rather that indicating the actual level of need. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s not, but that’s impossible to really know since ST hasn’t released any sort of official analysis that would show what is achievable with any level of authority. In any case it’s clear that Sen. King cares not for Sound Transit’s taxing flexibility.

That doesn’t make $11 billion any less arbitrary, nor does it do anything for the potential riders whose projects won’t get built at a lower level of funding. But if Republicans that actually represent the ST district don’t care enough to raise a stink about it, then I’m not surprised that Sen. King doesn’t either.

H/T to Avgeek Joe.

46 Replies to “Curtis King on ST3”

    1. I’m in favor of altering our two-zone fare system slightly: residents of Puget Sound counties $3.00; other state residents $15. Why soak the tourists? We actually get tax revenue from them!

      /end snark

      1. How about we just sell everything east of the Cascades in both Oregon and Washington to Idaho? Or auction it off on ebay to the highest US state or territory or Canadian province?

      2. As someone from Coeur d’Alene I object to that. They’re very Republican, sure, but far more Western Libertarian than most Alabamans could tolerate. As a very conservative kid, Seattle was Massachusetts, but Spokane was always just that slightly astray child that’s so close to getting it right.

      3. You’re right, Zack (I’ve lived in the deep south; my parents were married in Coeur d’Alene, my grandmother was born in Spokane); but as far as the West goes I think the point remains…particularly when you get out of Boise, Cd’A or Moscow. Somebody like Raul Labrador would not be far out of place in large swaths of the deep South or Oklahoma. Maybe Wyoming can match it. Utah is a different thing altogether, perhaps Saudi America ;-)

        Tongue planted (somewhat) in cheek….

        The libertarian streak in the West–and it’s on both left and right–is what separates the two conservative poles in this country. That said, Avgeek Joe and every conservative friend I have from the NW would be considered Democrats in South Carolina (Alabama, Mississippi….) and that is no exaggeration. I’ve dealt with it first hand, including on a political basis.

  1. Asking for $15B as a starting bid was just bad politics. We should har asked for enough for very large versions of ST3 AND ST4 and then added 50% so Reps could feel like they won concessions.

    Whats it to them, really? It could be a zillion dollars of authority – it won’t be a tax in their districts.

    1. Whats it to them, really? It could be a zillion dollars of authority – it won’t be a tax in their districts.

      This has been well-covered here, but a lot of them want to use the willingness of us liberal urbanites to tax ourselves to override their own constituents unwillingness to do so on their preferred roads packages (Rodney Tom was unusually honest about this). As there is presumably some limit to that willingness, allowing us to buy nice things for ourselves works against the cynical interests of rural republicans.

  2. It’s time to use the monorail taxing authority to build “not light rail” in Seattle. Forget these rubes.

  3. What a disconcerting interview. I got the feeling these guys have about a much technical expertise as I. King basically said, I know nothing about what I’m writing legislation for, so instead of researching the topic, I’ve used my knowledge of psychology and some stuff some people whos’ names I can’t recall said to guess. If King’s ignorance wasn’t clear from his first answer, his second answer, if you could even term that bumbling such, confirmed it.

    1. That’s because most of these guys DON’T write any legislation–if we’re lucky, a competent staffer does so; if not (and this has been the case throughout the country), lobbyists do. There’s one particular lobbying group that does a great deal of this; Sen. King is almost assuredly familiar with them.

    2. C.mon now, let’s show some ‘Un-Snobbish’ respect for the job they have to do. Legislators are generalist by nature of the job, having to balance a great many interests, including their own party affiliations and not giving the store away to the wheel squeaking the loudest that day.
      I doubt any one of them could go toe to toe with a light rail geek. They have transportation staff to rely on for guidance, WSDOT, TC, a host of lobbyists willing to bend their ears, constituents needs (unfunded education is the biggie), and a host of other things to consider on their plate. Are you surprised they don’t know about Option D of the Long Range Plan and how that would rank for FTA grants?
      If you go into a deli, knowing you only care about cheese, and Limburger cheese at that, are you miffed because the shop owner carries many other items for other customers and is unwilling to clear the cases for more of your favorite cheese? Of course not.

      1. Mic that is EXACTLY why they should have given ST the full $15B authority – because ST is the agency that DOES know exactly what it needs and how much it’ll cost. That’s what is so frustrating, is King and others have no familiarity with transit planning, but instead of deferring to the experts who say “We need $15B” they put their arbitrary paws all over the legislation and say “Nah, think we’ll give you $11B.”

      2. Legislators aren’t completely generalists. That’s why they have committees. They depend on members of the various committees to have at least some basic knowledge of the topics that committee covers. They depend even more so on committee chairs, vice chairs, ranking members, and assistant ranking members to have done their homework.

        I think the point of the post isn’t about whether the people in the video have done their homework — I think they have — but revealing how they feel about mass transit.

        I don’t really care how they feel, though. I just want, as a resident of the Sound Transit taxing district, to be able to vote to tax myself to complete the light rail spine and get light rail to Ballard (or at least build a downtown tunnel that will enable it to happen in our lifetime).

      3. Brent, bingo. Unfortunately, King has shown that he lacks a basic understanding of transporation systems consistently. Of course, that’s nothing new for either chamber’s transportation committeee chairs historically…

  4. What about that piece written last week (or was it two weeks ago?) that explains how the $15B number could still be hit including bonds, and that all increasing tax authorization would do is give more flexibility? In that case, why does this matter that much?

    1. Because those calculations are already figured into the original request. It’s not that ST needs $15 billion per se and just realized last week it could raise it with $9 billion tax authority. It’s that ST thinks a $15 billion tax authority is a good amount for the current round. The region’s transit needs are clearly higher than that, while low-tax enthusiasts would prefer something lower. The $15 billion is mainly about being the same size as ST1 and 2, which ST thinks would be most acceptable to voters because it’s familiar. It’s not enough for full UW-Ballard-West Seattle or Everett-Tacoma, but it’s enough to make a significant step toward them.

      1. Plus, another reason to fight for $15 Billion in taxing authority now is that Sound Transit can use any un-tapped taxing authority when it comes time for ST4. If we can give them more than they need for ST3, then we can save everyone the trouble of having this exact same fight in 8 years.

  5. Reminds me of the stimulus fight, when Max Baucus (or another bland, blue-dog democrat) decided that $800 billion was enough despite what economists were saying about actual need. At least in that situation the administration actually put forth a number of $1.2 trillion.

    I do so love having my transit future decided by a guy who’s probably never set foot in my neighborhood, and doubtfully never will, and whose constituents would not pay a dime towards any of these projects.

  6. ST has repeatedly said the $15 is for flexibility, and to safeguard against the legislature giving it less than it asks. That’s how all price negotiations work. The “flexibility” is both on the size of the ultimate package (which will have to be balanced for subarea equity), and to possibly minimize or not use some unpopular tax mechanisms (especially MVET). The full $15 billion is not enough for complete light rail from UW to Ballard to West Seattle and a downtown tunnel anyway, so something will have to be dropped even if we get the full amount.

    What bothers me is not that they’re cutting the amount per se, but that they’re doing it with complete disregard for what might not be built because of it. Is $11 billion enough for a reasonable transit network this round? The legislators have no frigging idea because they haven’t identified which projects are acceptable to them and added up their costs. If for instance they wanted to cancel Sounder North, they could subtract its maintenance cost from the budget and tell ST they want it taken out of Sounder. Then they’d a logical basis for their amount. But instead they’re just picking a number out of the air and imposing it blindly, as if the size of the network doesn’t matter on the ground.

    1. Did ST go to the legislature with a plan saying “for $15B we will build X, Y, and Z”? If not, I think it is hard to fault the legislature for not having any idea what projects are cut when only $11B is allocated. ST itself doesn’t know exactly which projects are going to be built for a given level of funding yet, correct?

    2. Just out of curiosity, how much money would it really save to cancel Sounder North? Assume we cannot sell the easements back to BNSF (for which we’d get pennies on the dollar), are we really spending a substantive amount of operating costs alone? Would the savings be enough to fund alternative infrastructure, or just enough to fund some additional buses up and down I-5?

    3. The corridor studies are published. Legislators can go through them, choose whichever ones they think we deserve, and add them up.

      1. You’d end up with 98 lists. Which one goes to the ballot?

        I fully support Sound Transit getting $15B or more in taxing authority. But the way this process seems to work, the authority is being asked for without a specific list of projects behind it. So of course the legislature has no idea what is cut when the $15B is reduced.

      2. The list is not to put in the legislation, it’s just to explain why the legislators chose that amount rather than some other amount. “It’s enough for this.”

    4. I think it’s really micro-management for the legislature to be adding up costs and deciding what we are allowed to build. It would all make perfect sense if it were the state’s money we’re talking about, but it’s not – it’s our own money.

  7. If that’s how they’re going to make decisions, the path forward is clear. Get this on the ballot, and if it passes, for 2020, figure out every other long-term useful project in the entire region and add that up and ask for that much taxing authority.

    Only use the portion of that authority that is politically palatable, but then you can go back the next time and take what’s left or get an easier reauthorization because you were “responsible” with the taxing authority granted previously.

    If this is all about splitting the difference between competing proposals, open the Overton window as far as possible and ask for everything that fits through it.

  8. My pet theory, for which I have no hard evidence at all, is that the smaller number better fits the preferences of the Republicans in the Sound Transit region.

    They have their preferred projects, but are otherwise tax-averse. So they want a ST3 package that is just big enough to fit their districts wish-list, and no more.

    What does Andy Hill (District 45, Redmond, Sammamish) want? He wants Link to Redmond which is cheap enough to fit any reasonable package size.

    Mark Miloscia (District 30, Federal Way) wants Link to Federal Way. This is the most expensive project in a Republican Senate district, but it should fit the reduced package size.

    Steve Litzow (District 41, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Klahanie) already has what his district wants.

    The others are Joe Fain (District 47, Auburn, Covington), and Bruce Dammeier (District 25, Puyallup, Fife, South Hill). They have Sounder South, and don’t have much interest in paying for anything else.

    Curtis King is happily playing bad cop. He’s in Yakima and doesn’t care what progressive voters in Seattle think. Andy Hill is more sensitive to what voters in this area think. He probably wants to be governor one day. But taking a stance, any stance, is just downside for him. Far easier for him to keep a low profile.

    1. I agree with this analysis, except that Litzow also represents Eastgate and Issaquah, and Hill represents DT Kirkland (and not DT Redmond), all three of which will be stretches at any package size.

  9. “From my limited knowledge, people usually ask for more than they want.”

    So, you didn’t bother to get more than “limited knowledge” but you think they probably could deal with an arbitrarily smaller number. Because, by your own admission, you can’t be bothered to dig into the 15B number any further than that.

    Oh and the revenue collected will be charged and spent completely OUTSIDE your district. So not only did you not bother to do even a basic level of research, you are incentivized to not care.

    Awesome leadership, dude. This is why your party was on the fringes for decades.

  10. I’m surrounded by [ad hom].

    And this is just the Tri-Cities. I’m in the most liberal part of EWA.

    (mumbles something about even being elected a PCO, and being on the local party eboard).

    If I were you, I’d be very thankful that Mr. King even uttered the time of day so-to-speak. Yakima County is really anti tax. they don’t even have a PTBA and the Yakima city manager has formally prohibited the term PTBA from being discussed or mentioned within the city government.

    I have lots to say but unfortunately my fingers are not cooperating very well and my phone has very poor speech recognition.

    Brian Bradford
    Kennewick WA

    1. I feel your pain. Born and raised in Yakima. My dad was a Yakima Transit operator and my step-mom still is. The lengths the Yakima city government goes to to ensure transit *isn’t* successful would be funny if they weren’t so tragic (eg reducing service on the most popular routes).

      I knew we would be in for it when I saw the Senator from Yakima was the chair of the transportation committee.

      You can’t reason with the unreasonable. They only understand power. We will have to show them which part of the state it resides in.

  11. Guys, only now have I been able to check into the comments. Great stuff.

    I have said before, will again: Happily trade Sounder North for light rail. Safer, sexier, sweeter. Let’s also make getting light rail here faster – no matter what happens in regards to the City of Everett’s leadership’s latest commercial terminal proposal for Paine Field.

    I will also say that I think it’s time some of the belly-aching over this “poison pill” stop. There is a good reason why Inslee has to be stopped from arbitrarily raising the gas tax… and it’s also why voters should get to vote on the gas tax increase. Gas taxes are regressive and insidious.

    It’s hard to defend state legislative Republicans on this one. Especially as I haven’t heard Republicans champion a public vote on the gas tax… :-|

  12. HB1818 (from two Eastern WA legislators) would split the state. I say Western WA calls their bluff and advances it. That ought to free up lots of money and political will for transit and other worthwhile endeavors. Eastern WA can have all the highways they can pay for.

  13. Some of the comments here smack of greed. To me, $11.2 billion – potentially – is better than zero. By the sounds of it, it’s an “all or nothing” proposition with at least some folks here. This is other people’s money as well as our own. We aren’t entitled to any of their money; we have to earn their trust. As mentioned, many of them are underemployed or long-term unemployed. If $11.2 billion ends up as “the number” – this forces ST to prioritize. How can that be a bad thing? Don’t we do that in our own budgets? From the lists I’ve seen published here, this could, if passed, result in a light rail line from at least South Everett (my guess: from 128th to SR-526) to Tacoma Community College and out to Redmond and BRT for the Eastside, though I’d like to see some element of light rail priced out for at least part of that, e.g. Factoria to Tukwila, the segment of I-405 that’s routinely described as “the most congested,” and/or from UW Bothell to Lynnwood. Maybe Sound Transit would re-think continuing to pour millions into the underutilized, cost-ineffective Sounder-North line, though I doubt it, for there’s nothing that makes them.

    We can get the voter’s trust by requiring a minimum level of transparency and accountability for transit or, for that matter, any agency that receives a significant amount of revenues via public funds. Transparency might include having meetings, staff reports, etc. online. Accountability might include having meetings, staff reports, and regular project status reports online, and required regular, independent, comprehensive audits as Metro chose to have. New requests might have tangible cost for an average family per year and how much over the project’s lifetime. New requests – and that’s what they are – for voter’s money would tell them it would cost the three levels (property values, sales taxes, vehicle values) per year and for the lifetime

    In addition, fare policy consolidation should continued by Metro and others, for there are opportunities therein as well, the result of all of the above being more service hours, something we all want, except these wouldn’t cost a dime in new taxes!

    1. @transitrider,

      What do you mean, “other people’s money”? We’re asking the state legislature for permission on how to use our very own, locally-raised money. Very few of these legislators care at all about Seattle, nor do they have to suffer with our awful transit infrastructure.

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