Rep. Jessyn Farrell
Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Shortly after STB’s editorial board issued a screed denouncing the $518 million ransom payment to the state to be allowed to spend money on ST3, Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D – 46th District – North Seattle) made lemonade out of the lemon.

Via an amendment to SB 5987 that was proposed by Rep. Farrell on the House floor, got adopted by the House late Tuesday night, and was concurred with in the Senate early Wednesday morning, that $518 million that would come out of taxes on Sound Transit 3 projects would stay within a new Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability account, to fund educational programs for the most vulnerable students within King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

While far from an ideal precedent, it does mean that more voters will have a reason to vote for ST3. Even if their neighborhood does not see new transit investments from ST3, their schools will be in line for some extra funding.

The net losers in this transaction are taxpayers from other counties, who just took a hit on their share of education funding, thanks to a related $518 million transfer from the state’s general fund to the Connecting Washington Account (See (9) in Effects at the bottom.), which is for WSDOT, and a lot of which will be spent in the ST District. It remains to be seen whether this net transfer of $518 million out of the state’s general fund will run afoul of the McCleary decision (Seattle Times $).

54 Replies to “Farrell Turns $518 Million Ransom Into Benefit for ST District”

  1. While not ideal, this amendment definitely makes the package something I can live with – at least local tax dollars from the Sound Transit district are staying within the district (even though it’s not transit – although public education is certainly important in its own right), rather than subsidizing the rest of the state.

  2. This would definitely make it possible for me to vote on ST3 on purely technical grounds, and not policy grounds. I would still have to see the project list to commit, though.

  3. A couple of things:

    1) how can we be assured that this $518m really is supplemental to the existing state funding levels locally and not just a funding of local items the state was already planning to fund? I.e., is this really $518m in additional funding locally? Or just a local funding source for what the state was planning to fund locally anyhow?

    2) the state probably has not meet its constitutional obligations under McCleary so the budget “fun” is probably not even close to being over yet.

    3) in 2 years when we get a more rational legislature ( I.e. A democratic one) we will be able to rework all this anyhow.

    1. lazarus,

      For sure some of the $518M will be shuffled around to ease the stress on Oly, so it will probably go to other areas. But Puget Sound — and in particular King County — already subsidizes everyone else’s schools to a huge degree. So if the money actually goes for public education it seems like a good thing. Originally it was supposed to go to WSDOT where it would have been used for more roads.

      Kids’ education is more valuable that roads, by a long shot.

    2. How will kids get to school without new highways for their parents to drive them on?

      We may be able to see what happens to the $518M by seeing how much of it is county-specific vs a non-geographical formula.

      1. For starters, by doing the unthinkable and sending their kids to local schools in their own neighborhood, rather than driving them halfway across town for this program or that program.

      2. asdf2, I agree. In most of Washington there is only one high school for one school district.

        School choice is a foreign concept in many parts of the state.

        If parents want boutique schools, vouchers, tax credits that kinda of thing – Sound Transit should NOT be subsidizing the educational industrial complex by the tune of $500 Million.

        Just imagine what $500 Million over the taxing authority of ST3 would do for statewide transit grants and if we required signs saying, “THIS RIDE KINDLY GIFTED BY SWEET SEATTLE” oh how that’d change so much for good.

    3. Don’t be too sure of your point #3. State senators in WA serve 4-year terms. If my quick check of the 2012 election results is correct, only two of the Republican state senators up for election in 2016 polled less than 55% of the vote in 2012 (a pretty good turnout year, in which Obama won WA by a healthy margin). One of those defeated a long-time D state senator in a Republican-leaning district (both state representatives in that district, R’s, won by healthy margins in 2012, let alone 2014).

      Thus, by normal considerations, there is exactly one vulnerable R state senator in 2016 – Litzow of Mercer Island. Winning one seat isn’t enough to reverse the current “majority coalition”. Remember also that one incumbent D state senator is running in a Republican-leaning district, and is not a shoo-in. Of course if some unexpected event occurs, e.g. some R state senator gets indicted for piracy or something suchlike(and no D does), that could change the calculus. But as it stands, the likelihood of an effective D majority in the state senate emerging from the 2016 election is not very good.

      Barring unexpected resignations or deaths, almost all the races in swing districts will next occur in 2018.

      1. Oops – I somehow missed Don Benton of Vancouver, who is also up in 2016 (kick myself, twice). He is somewhat vulnerable if he runs again (more than somewhat if another scandal crops up), but his district now has two R state representatives, and has been trending distinctly more R (and Benton WAS re-elected in 2012). If he doesn’t run, the seat is VERY unlikely to go D. This improves the chances of an effective D majority after the 2016 election, but it is still not going to be easy, and very far from a sure-thing.

      2. Yep, ol’ Helicopter Don is a distinct boat anchor liability for the local GOP down here. But you’re right; the 17th is pretty Red these days; Lynda Wilson beat a previously popular centrist Democrat last year.

        And if he goes it will be Lynda who runs and would win easily.

    4. WSDOT is still getting their $518 million in tax breaks. See the fourth link in the post.

      1. Yes, the Sound Transit money was originally going to go into the general fund to replace the money WSDOT is subtracting from it. The Farrel amendment redirects it to King/Pierce/Snohomish education. That’s not necessarily much of a difference because education is the legislature’s top priority (supposedly) and the three counties have the most students. But it’s a relief that it’s not going to some sprawly item in Camas or something.

  4. Representative Farrell is my representative and I think she does a very good job. I don’t always agree with her, but we agree on most issues, and she is very responsive (which is not true of all my representatives). In this case, this is a very good amendment. Personally, I don’t think this is that big of a deal either way. It isn’t, in my opinion, the big problem with the original bill. The biggest problem was not this money (a small subset of money that is obviously going to something worthwhile) but money spent on projects of dubious value (like 509 and 167 extensions). I think most of the blame for that falls to the governor, for proposing that in the original budget. It was difficult for negotiators (like Farrell) to propose a leaner roads budget focused more on maintenance after that was proposed. It is a shame that a strong environmentalist proposed that in the first place — I think he made a big mistake, and at some point he probably realizes that as well.

    1. The governor campaigned on 509 and 167 being important projects which were a priority to him (Columbia River Crossing also). So his action here is understandable, but the question becomes why we should call him a strong environmentalist?

      1. No, Governor Inslee is just using the environmental community wallets and hyperactivism to make himself Governor.

        Just like Rep. Farrell’s is using the transit community.

        Better to vote R I say – at least WYSIWYG.

      2. WYSIWYG eh. I’m not sure. Take for example, most republicans claiming to be for small government. In practice, I can’t recall a single time a republican has actually shrank a government. They know just as well as democrats that the way to win is to have tangible things to show and nothing to misconstrue. Tangible things like a big highway project make government bigger. Getting rid of largess is going to be bad for someone and you will likely get smeared in the next campaign.

        I wonder what would happen if we had exponential terms. First term for a year, the next for two, four, etc. That way the better ones could focus on actually doing their jobs and the voters would be able to focus their attention better on the new ones. It might not be better, but I bet it would be more interesting

        Actually, legislatures in this country are such a zoo, we may as well give up and embrace the insanity. We should make election rules ever changing, following arbitrary whims of a convoluted computer neural network that spends most of it’s time watching youtube videos with less than 10k views. I don’t see how that could be worse.

    2. I’d rather not see our state blowing huge sums of money on 509 and 167 myself. However, since I almost never visit those areas, I don’t really care all that much, and since I won’t actually be paying the higher gas tax, I can live with it in exchange for the chance to get better transit on the ballot. Especially since even if ST proposes crap and it fails 60-40, the authority is permanent, so they can try again in a future year with something better.

      With respect to 167, I do hope that in the midst of hundreds of millions to expand the highway, they can at least provide some sort of parallel bike facility to get between Puyallup and Tacoma – ideally, in the form of an extension to the Foothills Trail.

  5. What keeps the legislature from just moving some other $518 million in education funding to other areas? Part of the reason car tabs were so unpopular is the legislature used them to fun things that had nothing to do with transportation… Even popular things like education.

    1. Car tabs are about the biggest tax opposition there is. $100 looks like a lot when it comes in an annual bill rather than a dollar or two at a time in sales tax. People think their car llicenses should cost at most $20 or maybe $30. Especially if they have two or three vehicles, which includes motorcycles and non-working vehicles that they might fix up. It was the dominant factor in King County Prop 1’s failure, and ST is also not excited about using the small MVET tax it has been given because of its unpopularity.

      1. I agree. The MVET tax is really unpopular — even a gas tax is more popular, because it is less obvious. Gas prices go up and down so often that folks barely notice. It helps that Oregon has a tax that is still pretty high (although lower than ours) but doesn’t allow you to pump your own gas. This means that the difference isn’t obvious there either. I think it is only in Eastern Washington, when people visit Idaho that the difference is obvious.

    2. “What keeps the legislature from just moving some other $518 million in education funding to other areas?”

      McCleary, for starters.

  6. I wish the money had gone to transit grants for the rest of the state. Would have made a huge difference for transit users statewide and sent a message that Seattle pays the rest of the state’s bills. Would also have grown the pro-transit base.

    Problem is, the educational industrial complex is just one big black hole magic box throwmoremoneyatit contraption. I’m all for McCleary compliance and nothing more.

    I think Rep. Farrell’s choice and her choice to lead the charge against the referendum clause just shows in the end we in the transit community are an afterthought. I’m rather angry about this, so I’ll stop there.

    1. Another section of SB 5987 bars Sound Transit from receiving state grants, except for coordination grants from WSDOT. See Section 319, Subsection 4. Other transit agencies within King, Pierce, and Snohomish County may still receive state grants.

      1. I rather like that – but then again I live and work where I get little direct benefit from Sound Transit.

        I play sometimes in the world’s best city where I get much direct benefit from Sound Transit :-).

    2. I don’t think having Sound Transit subsidize rural bus routes in other parts of the state is a good idea. Again, it’s effectively just taking our money and shipping it elsewhere.

      It would also never fly with Republican legislators who believe that every dollar used to fund transit is a dollar flushed down the toilet. And If the Republican legislators didn’t matter, Sound Transit would have gotten to just keep its $518 million, rather than give it to anybody else at all.

      1. asdf2, I see your point but if we transit advocates are going to be bullied into this – okay then let’s have the fund transfer go from transit to transit rather than the black hole of the educational industrial complex to pay tribute.

        Also some of these rural Republicans are asking for more transit funding for their areas… especially north of Edmonds.

  7. Nothing will ever be on the level in Washington State spending until they remove the cap on property taxes.

    This will move people off the vote myself stuff from other people’s income model into the mmm, let me see what I can afford to pay from my own wallet first model.

    1. That’s gonna be a constitutional amendment which has even less chance of passing than a ST3 with light rail to Enumclaw. I quite agree with you–my property taxes are way too dang low–but the realistic chances are very slim.

      But isn’t it rather a moot point anyway since voters can approve property taxes above the 1% cap?

      1. Mostly, but there are a number of limits on voter approved property tax. First you need a supermajority. Second, except for paying off bonds for capital projects, they are one year taxes. This makes them fine for things like building schools, or light rail, but not so wonderful for providing operating funds. Third, you still have to watch out for the debt limit provisions of the state constitution. (there are hard and soft limits, since you need a supermajority anyway, only the hard limit is interesting).

  8. When it comes to this, the next time anyone mentions about the gas tax should only be for state highways, I would argue then money that voters want for Sound Transit shouldn’t be funneled to plug a sales tax gap in roadways.

    Sure you can call it lemonade but this should never have happened in the first place and this shows a lack of equity amongst the modes. Why should ST pay sales tax on projects yet roads shouldn’t?

  9. This will wind up making the net costs of the transportation projects higher. Bidders will know that there will be no taxes paid and will factor that in when considering how much they can charge vs what the state is willing to pay. It’s a bad deal all around. It’s only going to save 50 percent maybe of the purported savings.

  10. Did Farrell just lock up an STB endorsement in her next reelection campaign with a move that might be seen as having little to do with, or even being anti-, transit?

    1. I would endorse Curtis King and Jessyn’s elementary school principal over Jessyn Farrell right now.

      But I don’t make that endorsement.

      Let’s just say giving $500 Million to the Educational Industrial Complex that is greedily wanting 100% of the state budget pie and G*d knows how much of our taxes is anti-transit as much as giving it to roads.

      Give the money to transit grants instead spread out over the life of ST3 taxing powers.

    2. That’s a question for the Editorial Board, but you can’t call her move anti-transit. When the $518M transit ransom was made public in the 11th hour, she came out against the transportation package, got flamed for it within her caucus, then immediately and successfully pivoted to turn Republicans’ shameless ransom into something that’s at least minimally swallowable. It was good, if dirty and messy, work.

      1. Good work you say?

        Are you a Farrell Fan… and a STB supporter?

        Because now we’re giving over $500 million in ransom to the educational industrial complex that is underperforming, noncompetitive and in need of more reform than the road industrial complex?

        This money will do nothing to help with congestion relief. It could have if given in transit grants to the rest of the state so as one commentator put it more crassly than I – a removed car from Edmonds isn’t replaced by a car from a Skagit County municipality.

        Or better still, not done at all.

      2. Rep. Farrell just improved the chances of ST3 passing. Few who actually live in the district would have changed their mind to voting for ST3 because they knew some of the money raised would go to other parts of the state, for whatever purpose. I fail to see how Farrell’s maneuver could be seen as anything but pro-transit.

        Nor did anyone from the pubic education system ask for this money, via this mechanism.

      3. Brent White;

        I disagree.

        Personally, I’d like to see Farrell fired for her starring role in the ST3 fiasco – $500 million payout all for the educational industrial complex? That’s far out ell sellout to me.

        I wish the request was never placed of Sound Transit in the first place. I would rather see the money spent wisely – i.e. on transit needs. Community Transit, King County Metro and Pierce Transit all could have made good use of the money.

        Instead we’re giving the educational industrial complex what they want – more money, no strings attached. I’d be just as irate if the road lobby got this money.

      4. If you want to fire the people who vote to send money to the public education system, you will have to fire the entire legislature. Same with highways. If you are accusing Rep. Farrell of being pro-public-education, I can’t disagree. But unlike may other legislators, she isn’t trying to build new highways with no plan for how to pay to maintain them.

        The amendment and the bill puts strings on the money.

      5. Brent;

        I don’t think the strings on just throwing the money to the educational industrial complex (EIC) cuts it. I’d rather see performance-based standards like making sure kids are kept safe, given a quality education and frankly I’d like to give them exemptions from bus fares than just throw the money into the EIC.

        I don’t think transit dollars should go to the EIC – or vice versa. Keep them silo’d.

        I do believe “trying to build new highways with no plan for how to pay to maintain them” is Beyond Stupid too. The transportation package should have been transit + new bridges (e.g. 520) + road maintenance.

        I do believe we should discuss putting this to referendum. Rep. Farrell led the charge to stop that.

      6. Rep. Farrell’s amendment did not actually divert money to the public education system. It diverted it to the ST district.

      7. No, as currently written the Jessyn Amendment diverts $500 million from Sound Transit 3 to the educational industrial complex in the ST district.

        Nice try at spin but Jessyn is no longer an angel or advocate of the transit community in my book.

        I am not defending either any fellow Republican who did this or was party to this or who instead of closing a tax exemption choose to use Sound Transit 3 to balance the state budget.

      8. The bill had diverted the $518 million into the “educational industrial complex” of the State of Washington. Her amendment diverted it back into the area from which the taxes were being collected. You can start with Sen. King as the lead instigator of the diversion of $518 to the “educational industrial complex”.

      9. BTW, weren’t you supporting the deal, complete with the diversion of $518 million to the educational industrial complex, just five days ago?

      10. Brent, I support most of the deal – I just don’t support diverting $518 million to the educational industrial complex.

        At the least, I want the legislators who stood behind it to be fired – starting with but not ending with Rep. Jessyn Farrell.

        There is no excuse in my mind for taking hard earned transit dollars to spend on anything other than transit. Any educator would say the same about hard earned school levy dollars spent on anything other than (the black hole of) public education spending….

      11. Joe, you stood behind the whole deal, and berated those who didn’t. Rep. Farrell’s only crime here seems to be that she didn’t let the money leave the district where it is being collected.

        By your own definition, Joe has no claim to be pro-transit, and should be fired.

      12. Brent;

        I should have qualified my remarks the other day.

        But I think, really think, it’s the best deal we could get.

        I still think individual legislators who hurt (and that’s me respecting STB comment policy) the transit community by taking hard earned transit dollars to spend on anything other than transit. Any educator would say the same about hard earned school levy dollars spent on anything other than (the black hole of) public education spending….

        But then again, I would vote FOR ST3 if I could. I would because we need three trains of rotating tax authority so we can get the Seattle Subway list of projects by 2050 (preferably much sooner, but alas).

      13. The legislators who took the money from ST3 are the ones who designed and pushed Sen. King’s amendment. Rep. Farrell definitely wasn’t one of them.

      14. Brent, I think we agree this amendment is wrong. I hope we can also agree that taking money away from transit for another governmental function – namely public education – makes the wrong worse.

        Now if this money went either to transit grants with Sound Transit eligible for them or to county-level transit agencies in the Sound Transit district I’d be okay with it. At a recent ST3 community briefing, one thing Sound Transit wanted to stress was the importance of Pierce Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit & Everett Transit to accomplishing Sound Transit’s goal.

        I think we’re close to agreement. But go enjoy the Fourth!

      15. Joe,
        Labeling is one of the most tired literary devices for dehumanizing an opponent. Taking someone or something down this way, intends to make others identify “them” as “different, other, bad…” Because “they” can’t answer you, it is one sign of a weak argument that wouldn’t withstand a direct person-to-person debate. Targeting the “educational industrial complex” makes you and the person you learned that phrase from sound like heroic crime fighters on a mission for good against the evildoers. Hooray! But that’s bs. If you said “teachers and children” instead, then it’s obvious who you are trying to hurt. Or at least who you think doesn’t deserve state assistance. You must not have children if you think the schools are adequate, and if you think adequate will hold up under the same growth that makes us need a bunch more transit, and if you think adequate is the best we can do for our children. I, as a parent, feel quite pleased, no matter my other priorities and desires, that a free people has chosen the education of their children to be constitutionally identified as the primary and preeminent duty of the State. I have plenty of issues with how we spend our education money, but I would never compare it to military or prison spending, which is what your phrase intends.
        You have some good points to make, but using these kinds of literary exaggerations and labels is inappropriate for STB, weakens your arguments and reflexively turns people against even listening to what you’re saying. I don’t like it when others do it. I’ve had a long road reigning myself in too, so don’t take this as a slap, just a friendly, hey, think on this.

      16. Thank you Eric, I appreciate your good intentions. I “get it” when I used the term “road bullies” in the past it wasn’t making me more friends here.

        However I think we give the education industry enough money as-is. It’s time to say bluntly, we will comply with McCleary and no more. Throwing more money blindly at the public education industry is not going to educate children – money attached to accountability & rewards will. The WEA needs to be put in its place.

        Just to lay down ideological markers: I do think we spend too much on prisons and question some of our military spending on projects that are overbudget and overwrought when cheaper, proven equipment is available. I also think Sounder North can go away – I’d trade it in for something more cost-effective and reliable.

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