The #waleg Senate passes $16b transpo bill 39-9. House floor action expected Tuesday.
— Michael C. Lindblom (@MikeLindblom) June 30, 2015
Less than 10 hours after the public received details about the state legislature’s transportation package, the Senate approved it. By the time you read this, the House’s vote will be imminent. Governor Inslee is a party to the deal and unlikely to veto any section of it. We’re not ones to lament lack of process — a good bill is a good bill even without public comment, and a bad one is bad even with it — but the lack of time to even digest the legislation, much less mobilize around it, is breathtaking.
We’re left with only the opportunity to reflect on what is about to become law. The basic highway/transit tradeoff was probably inevitable, because our allegedly climate-focused Governor either doesn’t grasp or doesn’t care about the link between highways and carbon emissions, and therefore fought hard for the highways. We were ready to grudgingly accept that deal, partly because some of the highway projects were at least defensible from a transit advocate’s perspective. But the additional stipulations are too onerous to accept.
First, there’s a further $500m subsidy of drivers by taking tax revenue from the general fund — from schools, state parks, health care, social services, public safety and all the other things the State does — and give it to WSDOT through a new sales tax exemption.
To raise the Sound Transit 3 revenue authority from $11 billion to $15 billion, the State will claim over $500m of that ST revenue, intended for transit, in addition to having Sound Transit forfeit virtually all state grants (already pathetically behind other urbanized states). So this last $4 billion of taxes will purchase perhaps $3 billion of transit. The $500m replaces the $500m WSDOT exemption, a barely obscured transfer of regional transit funds to statewide highways.
And then there’s the provision banning low-carbon fuel standards, which shows that Senate Republicans care so little about non-car modes of transportation that they will gleefully use its funding as a hostage.
In the short term, there’s little we can do about these bills. Perhaps there will be an initiative or referendum to target one or more package elements. A good target would be SSB 5990, the sales tax exemption, a straight giveaway to construction contractors and to WSDOT, the single state agency doing the most to aggravate the climate problems that are already damaging our state’s economy, at the expense of everything else the State does to serve its citizens.
The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.