ST and WSDOT: one of these things is not like the other. Photo by SounderBruce.

[Update from Martin 4:10pm: Section 319 specifically prohibits Sound Transit, if it enacts new MVET, from receiving any state grants except for “transit coordination grants.”]

Today, the state Senate made public the details of the “compromise” transportation proposal agreed to by transportation committee leaders in the state House and Senate.  The public documents include proposed bill text, project lists, and a balance sheet. We understand that both houses will vote on this proposed compromise tomorrow.

STB staff are still reviewing the documents and determining exactly what they mean for Seattle-area transit, but there are a few important highlights from the proposed revenue bill, ESSB 5987:

  • Sound Transit gets authority to ask voters for a basket of new taxes that would raise approximately $15 billion for ST3 projects (Sections 318-321).
  • However, up to $518 million of the new ST3 taxes would be diverted to the general fund (Section 422).  This exactly matches a sales tax break that would be given to WSDOT under SSB 5990, so it is effectively a transfer from ST to WSDOT.
  • ST must contribute $20 million over five years to affordable housing, and must give developers of affordable housing the first opportunity to bid on 80% of its surplus property, including property acquired for ST1 and ST2 (Section 329).
  • The Snohomish County Public Transportation Benefit Area gets authority to ask voters for an additional .3% sales tax, which would support Community Transit (Section 312).
  • Cities or counties may absorb, and take on the powers of, transportation benefit districts (TBDs) that have identical boundaries (Sections 301-308).
  • TBDs get authority to impose $40 to $50, up from $20, of the maximum $100 vehicle license fee without a public vote (Sections 309-311).

On the one hand, this package gets ST3 all of its requested authority, and could also help fund Community Transit.  On the other hand, this package contains numerous policy provisions which are hard to swallow, and (as always in Washington) proceeds full speed ahead with highway projects while requiring transit projects to submit to yet another public vote.

81 Replies to “Compromise Transportation Package Details Online”

  1. And the highwaymen came riding—riding—riding—
    The highwaymen came riding, up to the state’s bank door.
    .

    1. I do really resent the general tendency — by both left and right! — to use the ST budget as a slush fund for their non-transit pet priorities.

      1. Zach L, slush-fund thinking from the left is what gets us provisions like the affordable housing ones in this bill.

      2. If $20M on affordable housing is what a Dem slushfund is, then I’m totally cool with slush funds. I’m not cool with $519M on useless roads.

    2. Can someone who understands the thinking behind the $518M diversion provision try to explain the rationale for it as expressed by its proponents? What is the justification for this?

      1. Republicans want to exempt highway projects from sales tax to make them cheaper. This creates a hole in the general fund, which the deal fills by subjecting certain ST projects to sales tax. So once the fix is in for WSDOT it becomes about “saving education” or whatever.

      2. If urban Democrats had a spine they’d say “if ST is subject to sales tax highway projects are too. If highway projects are exempt from sales tax ST is too. By the way, we aren’t voting for anything that puts millions of dollars into roads and nothing into transit.”

      3. Okay time to talk sense to all of you.

        What we’re getting:

        ^Sound Transit gets authority to ask voters for a basket of new taxes that would raise approximately $15 billion for ST3 projects (Sections 318-321).
        ^ST must contribute $20 million over five years to affordable housing, and must give developers of affordable housing the first opportunity to bid on 80% of its surplus property, including property acquired for ST1 and ST2 (Section 329).
        ^The Snohomish County Public Transportation Benefit Area gets authority to ask voters for an additional .3% sales tax, which would support Community Transit (Section 312).
        ^Cities or counties may absorb, and take on the powers of, transportation benefit districts (TBDs) that have identical boundaries (Sections 301-308).
        ^TBDs get authority to impose $40 to $50, up from $20, of the maximum $100 vehicle license fee without a public vote (Sections 309-311).
        ^Island Transit gets county connector funding

        So more affordable housing, more transit options and stuff for Island Transit as Island Transit rights itself.

        Yet you people want more, more, MORE. Kinda get grumpy about that.

        Be grateful you got this deal on the 29th of June. One more day until a gov’t shutdown.

  2. David,

    1) There’s a thing there for the County Connectors. Details are currently unclear but here’s what I know.

    Sec. 207. FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION—PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION—PROGRAM
    . . .
    (c) $2,300,000 of the amount provided in (a) of this subsection is provided solely for Island transit’s tri-county connector service for expenditure in 2015-2017.
    . . .

    Hmm, looks like Island Transit will get some funding. No strings attached. Not sure about the fine details.

    2) For Mukilteo’s Multimodal Ferry-Bus-Rail Terminal, the deal seems sealed:

    “It is the intent of the legislature, over the sixteen-year new investment program, to provide $68,600,000 in state funds to complete the Mukilteo Terminal Replacement project (952515P).”

    3) Oh and I’d omit the quote marks around compromise if you can. It’s a genuine compromise. We get more transit funding, road advocates get theirs – but I too want the road advocates to have to face the voters like we do.

    1. There will still be a vote before anyone gets any new taxes (except for possibly the mvets).

    2. Oops Administrator please delete or ignore above message. Didn’t quite read correctly.

  3. And it also means that if ESSB 5987 goes to a referendum vote over the gas tax, Sound Transit 3 is effectively voted on twice and has two chances to be shot down (with one at the state level where it will be lumped in with a vote by people who do not pay the RTA taxes).

      1. It’s my understanding that the referendum process refers the entire bill passed by the legislature to the people for a public vote. An initiative could repeal specific sections of the law after the law takes effect but it is a higher threshold (8% of gubernatorial voters) versus a referendum (4%).

  4. That’s extremely ugly. Scarce transportation taxes paying for roads after we keep voting down road funding. Do we know which politicians are responsible so we can publicly shame them?

    1. Well the WSDOT tax exemption is a Republican idea. Backfilling the general fund is probably popular with everyone. Most Dems would gladly raid a local transit budget to solve statewide general fund needs.

  5. “This exactly matches a sales tax break that would be given to WSDOT under SSB 5990, so it is effectively a transfer from ST to WSDOT.”

    This part is so sickening to me. Seattle (and KC, SC and PC) people are paying extra to WSDOT for no extra gain.

    1. But WSDOT sure does a lot for the Seattle Megalopolis?

      I know this deal is not the best but we have to take it or leave it for a very long time.

      I say “take it” and make it work.

    2. The odd part about it is that if voters defeat ST3 that effectively creates a hole in the general fund, affecting education statewide.

      1. Oh wunderful. Just more games.

        What a rigged game this is.

        We send great guys like Marko Lilias in and good guys like Barbara Bailey in and this is what we get?

        I hope Jay Inslee does some line-item vetoes.

      2. asdf asks a very good question which apparently no one has answered. Clearly, it depends on how the legislation is worded, but it’s entirely possible that the requirement to back-fill the sales tax exemption for highways is a mandate against Sound Transit whether or not ST3 passes.

        OK. I read the bill and it appears that it applies only to

        the total payments made by the regional transit authority to construction contractors on construction contracts that are (a) for new projects identified in the system plan funded by any proposition approved by voters after January 1, 2015″

        that sounds like it is conditioned upon approval of ST3 and possible later approvals, including, I believe, any projects funded with “extensions” of ST1 and ST2 taxes.

    3. Maybe I missed it, but where does it say that the money that ST3 ($518 million) has to go to WSDOT? It sounds like it is going to the general fund, to be used/wasted on non-transportation projects. This sounds like the legislature is taking from one small pot(ST3) and giving to the big pot(general fund). How is this not a backwards deal by the legislature? If we in the Puget Sound vote for ST3, then in essence, we are giving the whole state an extra $518 million…

      1. I think you are right. It is very much like sales taxes on road projects.There are a couple differences though:

        1) The money only goes into the general coffers if ST3 is passed. If it fails, then no money is allocated.
        2) The money comes from the Sound Transit districts, not the entire state. It would be the same if, say, a charity decided to build something — they still pay sales tax. Except in this case, it isn’t a charity. It is the Sound Transit area paying a tax to the state (in addition to other state taxes). You pay the tax whether you want to or not.

      2. It doesn’t formally “go to WSDOT”. Because of Representative Farrell’s amendment it goes to a special fund dedicated to K-12 education within counties having a portion of the Sound Transit area within them.

        However, since its sole purpose is to “back-fill” the money lost to the General Fund by the exemption of highway projects from state sales tax, it actually “goes to WSDOT”.

  6. Two interesting things from the bill (page 66-67)

    – although, you can’t really argue against naming stations for dead politicians, but why is it necessary for the legislature to require ST to pick a specific name for a station? Is this really a good use of the legislature’s time? “(b) A regional transit authority that imposes a motor vehicle excise tax after the effective date of this section, imposes a property tax, or increases a sales and use tax to more than nine- tenths of one percent must undertake a process in which the authority’s board formally considers inclusion of the name, Scott White, in the naming convention associated with either the University of Washington or Roosevelt stations.”

    – So they way they write the ST3 law is to allow any RTA with a county over 1.5 million people, obviously that is King County — but in 50 years, could that not be Clark or Spokane county, right? Is there some law on the books from 50 or 100 years ago that used to only apply to Seattle but now applies elsewhere? “(1) Regional transit authorities that include a county with a population of more than one million five hundred thousand may submit an authorizing proposition to the voters,”

    1. So they way they write the ST3 law is to allow any RTA with a county over 1.5 million people, obviously that is King County — but in 50 years, could that not be Clark or Spokane county, right?

      Yes. Most states west of the Mississippi write their laws in this fashion because their state constitutions (or constitutional tradition upheld in state courts) forbid naming specific entities, be they people, companies, or municipal governments.

      A fun one from my home state says that “a county situated in a metropolitan area of no less than 2.0 million people with at least 3 miles of water border along the Gulf of Mexico and containing at least one Interstate highway may…”

      1. Is that Tampa?

        This kind of thing can cause trouble on the decline also–Michigan wrote a bunch of laws for “cities of over 1,000,000 people” (Detroit). Only now Detroit has a lot less than a million people.

      2. Of course, any judge with a brain and a heart would strike down this way of specifying cities as equivalent to specifying them by name.

  7. What is the reason for the $518 mil transfer from ST to WSDOT? Is the state wanting to force ST to contribute to the Express Lane network in a ST3 package? Otherwise, I am not seeing the nexus.

    Are we getting the $15 B in taxing authority or is the size of the ST3 package going to be $15 B? From what I gathered before, $15 B in taxing authority meant a larger-than-$15 B ST3 project package was possible. I remember reading that $11 B in taxing authority was going to lead to about $14 B in projects.

    This distinction needs to be made before people run away with their assumptions.

    That TBD provision looks like a good thing to me.

    1. The law revolves around the tax rate, not $15 billion. $15 billion is an estimate of what it would raise in 15 years. It’s actually a combination of three taxes: sales, MVET, and Iforget the third. What limits ST is its annual cash flow: income, spending, and debt payments. There are a few factors in this:

      * The initial pot of ST3 money is whatever reserves ST has saved for a down payment, so that doesn’t count against the $15B. The board deferred 130th Station and the Northgate pedestrian bridge in order to have more reserves for ST3. In other words, ST can hang them out as carrots for ST3 voters.

      * As bonds are gradually paid down, ST can let new bonds.

      * ST can build a larger package by extending the time period. 15 years was chosen to be a similar size as ST1 and 2, based on the assumption that voters would be comfortable with a familiar-sized phase. But ST could propose a larger package for 16 or 20 years if it wanted to. What it can’t do is compress 20 years into 15 years, because that would require a higher tax rate than the legislature has authorized. That’s why ST went to the legislature for ST3. Otherwise it would have had to wait until ST1 and 2 were paid down to use its existing tax authority, and then it wouldn’t be able to even start ST3 for twenty years, even though the transit needs are now.

  8. There is a lot to not like in this, but no ST vote until 2020 or 2024 is much worse.

    It seems some progressives don’t understand how politics and demographics work. You don’t get more progressive outcomes by halting transit expansion (as stopping this would do). In order to get more progressive outcomes you need a more progressive legislature. To get a more progressive legislature we need to shrink our legislative districts. Dense populations are progressive populations. To get the density we have to have the transit. Add a couple hundred thousand transit riders into Seattle and the Eastside and then see how the district maps look in 2020.

    Once we shift the balance of power back to the urban core then we can push an ideologically pure progressive agenda. Until then we will have to compromise. That’s the reality we live in.

    If we wait until we have that progressive majority before we agree to expand transit, then we’ll get neither.

    1. If we wait until we have that progressive majority before we agree to expand transit, then we’ll get neither.

      I think that analysis is correct for the general tradeoff of highways expansion for transit, as highway expansion has broad bipartisan support. But the additional pokes in the eye are avoidable with a slightly better negotiating position.

      Personally, I would have preferred the $11 billion in authority to these additional provisions.

      1. I would just prefer A PACKAGE at this rate and if Jay Inslee wants the environmental community’s support he can salvage it with some line-item vetoes.

        It’s not like the Republicans have a great, charismatic candidate on tap just yet.

      2. The ‘pokes in the eye’ can all be repealed at a later date though, right?

        But as we learned with the Leg pulling MVET authority away from the transit agencies (but not Sound Transit, as it was already bonded on) once we vote in ST3 funding, it’s locked in.

      3. I agree. I have two big problems, though, and I’ve had them from the beginning (before editorial writers and the Sierra Club said the same thing):

        1) We don’t get to vote on a roads budget that includes ridiculous roads. Specifically 167 and 509. Everything else is fairly reasonable. A few expanded road ways, a lot of money repairing roads that are falling down (e. g. 520). But a huge chunk of the budget goes to those turkeys. They are there because those are swing districts.

        2) Getting transit requires a vote but the roads don’t. The disconnect between a roads package — much of which I would support — and a transit package is ridiculous. The roads package is dominated by stupid projects, projects that certainly be killed if put to a public vote. Sound Transit doesn’t have that luxury. Even if they pull off the improbable, and thread the needle to come with a wonderful package, it might still lose, for whatever reason. But we would be stuck with stupid, stupid roads.

        I honestly don’t know which way I would vote if I was in the legislature. I know compromise is required, but this just seems too poor to me. I know we want to move onto the next step, but I can’t help but feel, in my gut, that the best thing is just to start over. Pass a maintenance budget and kick the can down the road (and hope for something better in a couple years).

      4. But you’d also strand Whidbey Island, harm Snohomish County/Community Transit and so much more…

        Take this deal.

        We’ve tried do-over since 2013. How did that work out?

        Time for the Jessyn Farrells of the world to quit hand-wringing and work to improve this deal. Put the gas taxes to a public vote.

  9. So now there will be no more questioning of how much ST wants to build in the future, because the more it builds the more money goes to affordable housing and highways without legislators having to take a vote on them?

  10. The irresponsible attitude of the Washington state legislature toward road maintenance makes me sick.

    About the only good thing to say about it is it might reduce pollution by scaring any sensible citizen away from spending too much time on our roads.

  11. It’s hard for me to even consider voting no on a transportation package, but that’s how I lean right now. These poison pills, especially the wsdot road subsidy, is just icing.

    The cake of dog turd it sits on top of is Sound Transit’s inability to even envision transportation that meets Seattle’s urban needs. Can’t even hear wstt without rolling their eyes, let alone exploring it, don’t see the problem with at-grade routes, don’t understand why you might want your fancy trains to actually make stops in the city on the way to deserted suburbs, and so on.

    How about we vote this lemon down, and let the chips fall. The resulting delay would be terrible, but we are building a system for decades to come. We could get a Seattle only measure on the ballot in 2017 or 2018, and our voters will pass it whether there is a president on the ballot or not.

    Maybe I will get convinced to vote otherwise–after all, my fingers reflexively punch my nose wherever I fill out a ballot anyway, but it does seem some “compromises” are a bridge too far, and I think it’s a fair question to ask if this is one of them…

    1. Yeah, I’m leaning that way too. It sucks to feel that way. I won’t repeat what I said above, but I think we are on the same page — https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/06/29/transportation-package-details-online/#comment-629802

      I’m not a radical. I voted for Roads and Transit and thought people were nuts for voting against it. But I was wrong, and I think this proposal is wrong. Like you said, I think we should let the chips fall where they may.

      The long term trend is a great one. https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/06/26/growth-is-centralizing-in-seattle-and-the-eastside/
      The numbers on that page are a bit misleading. Seattle’s growth is bigger than the chart implies. That chart lists percentages, instead of number or people. This makes small places look they are busting at the seems (you should see the numbers on areas like North Bend). But if you add up number of new people in the cities (including cities like Lakewood and Sammamish), roughly half the growth is in Seattle. If you throw in Tacoma, then it is more than half. With growth like that, power will increasingly flow to Seattle. Areas like Bellevue and Tacoma can gladly come along for the ride, but that is the trend right now, and it suggests that won’t be the last chance to build something good for the city.

      The suburban trend is over. I really don’t see why we need to play that game anymore. White flight is dead. Good riddance.

    2. It’s too short to call it a long-term trend. It may be the start of a long-term trend but we won’t know for sure for ten to fifteen years. In many parts of the country urban areas picked up after the crash, higher than they had before, but suburban areas came back a few years later. The long-term prospects for the exurbs is bad, but that’s still a prediction at this point.

      However, opposing density is self-limiting because the more people move to other areas, the more votes those areas have compared to your area.

  12. ST must contribute $20 million over five years to affordable housing, and must give developers of affordable housing the first opportunity to bid on 80% of its surplus property, including property acquired for ST1 and ST2 (Section 329).

    What the hell? Does this make any sense whatsoever?

    1. Light rail raises housing prices in nearby neighorhoods; therefore, Sound Transit must compensate for this deleterious effect. Or so the logic goes to economic justice advocates with tunnel vision.

      1. Whether you support this particular affordable housing requirement or not, I have a hard time understanding political perspectives that are not in favor of affordable housing, or consider it a “left” thing. What’s do you support instead–housing for the rich only?

        (and I do support these housing provisions, despite being offended by the WSDOT grab. Consistency be damned. But let’s remember that $518 is about 25 times bigger than $20, so keep some perspective. Plus, our regional housing affordability situation is a crisis, whereas the need to pour money into new roads is not!)

      2. I can’t work up a strong opinion either way on $20 mil over 5 years. It means ST gets its name listed on a few affordable housing developments. Massage the good press a bit and it might be worth that. ST funds all kinds of random stuff that’s less worthy than affordable housing.

    2. As Bailo said below, it is peanuts anyway. It is a rounding error. It really doesn’t matter, and is a side show. 20 million out of 15 billion, well, you do the math (hint: it is tiny).

      1. 20 million isn’t even a single average mid-rise development (I am personally familiar with a 130-unit project–that’s 4 stories–that is budgeted at $29M, among many other examples). It’s a “hey! Look at what we did!” moment for the left.

        Not as embarrassing as the general fund extortion move, but certainly nobody’s shining moment.

      2. Just because it’s tiny, doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculous. $20 million here, $20 million there, and no wonder these projects cost twice what they do in Vancouver.

  13. $20 million in affordable housing is ridiculous for $15B budget.

    I would do a matching program.

    Something like for every 3 dollars of transit, I would build 1 dollar associated housing.

    Instead of just building rail lines, they’d have to improve density all along each line (not centralized TOD but alongside the lines with Queens-style 9 story apartments).

    Funding transit without funding housing is using my own money against me and pricing me out the market.

    1. “Alongside the lines” only works with urban station separations. Since ST insists that it cannot delay its Very Important Commuters from Smoky Point for One More Minute, “centralized TOD” — whatever that means — is our only option.

    2. I haven’t seen much of Queens so I’m just going by reputation. But anything that’s walkable and convenient to a transit station is transit-oriented. “Convenient” meaning a good pedestrian path to the station, not going around three sides of a building or a token minimal path at the edge of a parking lot. But in any case, streetcar suburbs are transit oriented, and I gather that’s what Queens is like only nine stories instead of two stories.

      People think transit-oriented development is something new but it’s the same principles as streetcar suburbs and traditional city neighborhoods. Bailo seems to equate TOD with something bad, which I guess is 20- or 40-story buildings, but if that’s the average height of the area it’s a downtown or something like Hong Kong. Vancouver has towers around outlying skytrain stations but it’s only two or four buildings, so the average height of the neighborhood isn’t that high and it’s in no danger of turning into Manhattan.

      But we don’t need 20-story buildings everywhere. What we need is a modest increase in the average height, say five stories, which translates into mostly 3-10 story buildings and a few 1-story scattered around. We need that over a wider area: entire neighborhoods, not just four blocks around a station. And we need to fill in the spaces between buildings. Let parks and gardens be real parks and gardens, rather than having dead open space on four sides of every building.

      By the way, I’m liking the townhouses at 598 Harvard Ave E (back of the Joule). I’m not adept at Google Maps links but hopefully these will work.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@47.624257,-122.321979,3a,75y,180h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sR9KBv-9ScmMnFQdB7jMosw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      https://www.google.com/maps/@47.623861,-122.321984,3a,75y,90h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sUWdNBTRFvKZPwDasTt7kdQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      I like the compact vertical orientation of each unit section and the brick facade. I can’t tell whether each section is one unit or more, but it looks like several vertical buildings next to each other. There’s intense landscaping with short setbacks, which is better than deep setbacks with lawns. The space between two buildings in the second picture is a kind of courtyard with stairs. It’s narrow and deep rather than wide. That again is urban-scale open space. There are still some modernest aspects I don’t like, but this building is a lot better than most of the new buildings around, and what I’d like to see more of.

    3. “Well perhaps…but typically STB seems to define it as building very high vertical density concentrically right at the station…so it’s walkable from the front door to the station entrance. I am calling for it to be built linearly, along the main rail lines..with maybe local bus service to ferry people to the nearest station.”

      It’s not an opposition. You, and some too-narrow density advocates, say density means 20+ stories. I made that same mistake until people pointed out that Paris and Boston achieve density with far less height. So there are two models: highrises over a few square blocks, or lowrises over many square blocks. But “lowrise” in the sense of row houses or those Queens apartments or southwest Capitol Hill, not like Kent East Hill where every building stands alone with a large parking lot in front or a one-story strip mall. That’s unwalkable non-density. Even though you can reach several businesses and apartments within a 10-minute walk there, it’s half or less than the number of destinations you can reach in those other neighborhood pictures — and that’s exactly the problem.

      “Linear” is partly right. In inner neighborhoods it will be a large 2-D area with several lines going through it. In outer neighborhoods it may be more along a single line. But several blocks deep is better than one block deep. What we’re getting on Pacific Highway is just the half block facing the highway. That’s better than nothing but it’s much less effective than two or five or ten blocks deep. There’s a network effect the more people and lines you put into a square mile: doubling the number of people increases the benefit by more than double.

      So we need to strike a balance between enough density and not too much. There are two models as I said: highrises in a few blocks, or lowrises in more blocks. The second is more acceptable to most people in the western US, so it’s a better goal. Vancouver has one neighborhood of highrises, and small clusters of highrises around outer Skytrain stations, but just beyond the highrise neighborhood (West End) is a lowrise neighborhood (Broadway/Kitsilano) that’s doing very well too. The problem in Seattle is that lowrise is allowed in only tiny parts of the city, and even where it is allowed it’s too short for the market (4 stories) so it remains single-family. We should allow midrises next to stations, 7-story lowrises in the current 4-story rings, and 4-story lowrises in the next single-family ring. Kent could go with something smaller, such as 7 stories downtown and 4 stories on East Hill, or whatever. Preserve two blocks as a historic shopping district but let the surrounding blocks grow. And put more stories on the Kent Station shopping mall! It won’t harm anybody’s backyard there.

    4. John,

      What is the point of building density “all along the line” if the stations are not walkably close? What you end up with is a strip of apartments along the arterials which are reachable only by transferring from the subway to “shadow” buses above it.

      I like the idea you’re proposing; as you say, it’s the way “real” cities are built. But it requires stations every few blocks, and even the Ballard-UW line people love so much doesn’t have sufficiently close station spacing to make it walkable throughout.

      More stations, please.

  14. If only we had a system of government based upon checks and balances. One in which a duly-elected governor might use his bully pulpit to expose the flawed logic, deficient policy aims, codified injustice, and blatant theft of a bad legislative compromise. One in which he might threaten to use his veto power to prevent the sausage from coming out rancid.

    Why bother throwing metropolitan electoral weight, so necessary for any Democrat to prevail, behind an executive who sees himself as a glorified rubber stamp?

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