In a wide-ranging interview, the South Seattle Emerald asked Mayoral candidate and State Senator Bob Hasegawa about Sound Transit 3. The reply was astonishing in several respects:
Emerald: You’ve been an outspoken critic of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 package, could you talk about why?
Hasegawa: I think that vote was rigged. I don’t think the ST Board was really honest with the people on what we were voting for. As a legislator they told us Sound Transit 3 was a $15 billion package, and I verified what they were saying, and their news releases, and at the time we balked at the price. But traffic was so bad we had to do something. That was part of the transportation budget bill, which also contained the largest gas tax increase in the history of the state, at over 11 cents per gallon.
I think this was one of those times that elected officials really disregarded the impacts on fixed and low income people who are trying to make ends meet. Once we authorized the $15 billion, the powers that be went behind a curtain, massaged something and when they came back out popped a $54 billion project. They knew they had the votes to pass whatever they wanted to, so they were like kids in a candy store. I’m not saying I would’ve voted against it had they originally stated the true cost, but I would have liked to not have had the wool pulled over my eyes.
ST3 received extensive coverage in the local media. That’s lucky, because otherwise people might be misled by this tangle of conflated events and financial naïveté. In no particular order:
- Sen. Hasegawa has a long history of messing with Sound Transit, either reorganizing a successful agency or directing it to spend money on car storage for non-riders rather than transit. Nevertheless, for a Mayoral candidate to come out against a package that passed by 39 points (!) in the City of Seattle*, and promises traffic-free, zero-emission mobility to Ballard, West Seattle, South Lake Union, and a few other neighborhoods is… notable.
- “I don’t think the ST Board was honest with the people on what we were voting for.” This accusation is unsupportable. The $54 billion figure was widely publicized, even though I think it vastly exaggerates any meaningful statement of the cost. Both the agency and the region’s largest newspaper published online calculators where voters could estimate their personal expenses.
- He then conflates his confusion as a legislator with deceit of the voters. Ordinary citizens may well be confused by the gap between the $15 billion and $54 billion figures, enough that I devoted many words to it in an explainer. However, this gap was irrelevant to the public campaign. Sen. Hasegawa has been in the legislature for 12 years. He has a staff, and agency governmental relations personnel that would be eager to clear up any uncertainty he might have. He has a responsibility to understand what he is voting on, or at least not complain that he couldn’t be bothered to figure it out.
- He is deeply concerned about “impacts” on low-income people from transit taxes that the voters had to approve, but is just fine with a gas tax increase for highways with no voter approval.
- “They knew they had the votes to pass whatever they wanted to.” Since he’s referring to the transition from $15 billion to $54 billion, the only “votes” he can be referring to are those on the Sound Transit Board, or among the people of the region. Since both had to be true, “they knew they had the votes” is a way of saying the region’s appetite for high-quality transit is insatiable. And yet somehow, this is his reason to be a critic.
This set of views is startling for a Senator from the 11th District, much less a potential Mayor of Seattle. Perhaps targeting the 31% of Seattle voters who voted no on ST3 is good enough to survive a big primary field. ST3 won’t decide this election, but if you care very much about transit, Bob Hasegawa may not be the Mayor for you.
* If I’ve crunched these numbers correctly, ST3 passed in Seattle 257,027 to 114,052, or 69.3% – 30.7%.