The House Transportation Committee met this morning to hold a public hearing and take action on Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5955, the car tab relief bill that would reduce the funding stream for Sound Transit 3.

Rep. Judy Clibborn
Rep. Judy Clibborn (D – Mercer Island), the chair of the committee, proposed an amendment that would strike most of the amendments made by the Senate. In particular, it would restore the $518 million in education funding paid for out of ST taxes sooner rather than later, and remove Sen. Marko Liias’ (D – Lynnwood) language expediting permitting decisions for ST3 projects. The amendment leaves the bill nearly identical to the version of EHB 2201 the House passed last year when Republicans controlled the Senate, and that it passed again earlier this year.

The primary exception is that Sen. Guy Palumbo’s (D – Maltby) language banning ST3 from eliminating light rail projects and bus rapid transit projects (even if the legislature does not cooperate with local cities’ efforts to have functional rapid lanes that won’t leave buses stuck in traffic) remains. This restriction is an unprecedented straightjacket that, if applied to ST1 and ST2 light rail projects, might have made them look a lot different than what has been built and is being built. The fiscal note did not attempt to cost out the impact of Palumbo’s amendment.

Beau Perschbacher, Policy & Legislative Director for the Washington State Department of Licensing, pointed out that, as currently drafted to take effect September 1, 2018, the bill could cost an extra $8 million for hiring extra contract programmers for the DRIVES data management project and other cost overruns, and urged the committee to push implementation out to July 1, 2019, as has been done with several other bills affecting the department. He quipped, “We have no expectation you are going to give us the extra $8 million.” He also pointed out that the bill is not clear whether the retroactive motor vehicle excise tax credit would apply to the vehicle or the taxpayer. He also pointed out that the retroactive credit could be found unconstitutional, and then DOL would have to administer a follow-up process to try to re-collect the taxes.

David Beard, Education Policy and Advocacy Director for School’s Out Washington, testified in favor of restoring the full education funding. He has been involved in planning efforts for what King County schools would do with the money.

Nick Federici, representing United Way of King County, requested restoration of the education funding, while pointing out that many of those affected are transit-dependent, and therefore have “skin in this game”.

Shelley Holder, representing Snohomish County, testified in favor of removing Sen. Liias’ permit expediting language, just as Rep. Clibborn’s amendment does. In response to a question, she mentioned that Snohomish County has taken no position on spending the education fund on education or transit construction.

Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R – Mill Creek) praised the amendment, but said “We’d like to see more, but we’ll take what we can at this point.”

Clibborn’s amendment passed by nearly-unanimous voice vote.

Rep. Jake Fey (D – Tacoma) said “I actually loved the senate bill,” and will be voting No.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D – Mukilteo) said she would vote for the amendment and to pass the bill out of committee, but expressed hope that, during continuing negotiations, a way could be found to backfill Sound Transit’s funding “that isn’t on the backs of our children”.

Rep. Javier Valdez (D – Seattle) cited “the work of my predecessor” (Jessyn Farrell) as a reason to vote Yes.

The bill, as amended by the House Transportation Committee, passed 19-4-2.

The House is in session today, and could take up ESSB 5955 as amended, at any time. The two houses have through next Thursday to agree on the final bill language, unless they go into extra sessions to finish the budgets.

33 Replies to “House Committee Restores Sound Transit Payments to Education Fund”

  1. If the rest of the State (including many representatives from the area) is so determined to handicap Central Puget Sound then so be it. There is nothing that the transit community can do about it. Legislators have too many other things to worry about to care about the removal of 3% of Sound Transit’s funding.

    However, the combination of the mandate to complete the system as promised with continued evisceration of the funding at both the State and Federal level means that the only way to get to Everett and Tacoma is on the ground. That means that trains can’t run as fast where the tracks leave the freeway right of way to serve stations because of grade crossings.

    I’ve groused about the level of resources ST consumes putting tracks on stilts. It seems excessive, so I guess that karma has come to call sooner than expected.

    1. The legislature is supposed to represent the entire state. Half the state’s population lives in Pugetopolis, and its tax revenue subsidizes the rest of the state. Puget Sound cities and counties were unanimous in petitioning the state to approve ST3, saying it’s vital for continued job growth and managing the increasing population and traffic. The legislators doesn’t care about any of that?

      “However, the combination of the mandate to complete the system as promised with continued evisceration of the funding at both the State and Federal level means that the only way to get to Everett and Tacoma is on the ground. That means that trains can’t run as fast where the tracks leave the freeway right of way to serve stations because of grade crossings.”

      If it’s in the I-5 right of way there are no grade crossings. See Shoreline and Federal Way, where Link both runs on the surface and goes under cross streets. The simplest cost-saving measure would be to delete the Paine Field detour and keep Link entirely in I-5. They’ll do that before they run it on the surface. There have been no level crossings since Rainier Valley, except a couple small segments in the Spring District and Redmond to raise money for the downtown Bellevue tunnel.

      “I’ve groused about the level of resources ST consumes putting tracks on stilts. It seems excessive”

      Is it more expensive than other cities’ elevated segments? At first I thought you meant they should have been surface to save money, but that contradicts your previous paragraph. So are you saying the pylons themselves are more expensive than other cities’?

      1. Yes, it’s likely that Tacoma can be built in the I-5 ROW, though it will make the Fife Station useless. But what about Paine Field and the South Everett hill? There’s no room alongside the freeway there. It’s stilts or down the middle of Pacific Highway through South Everett.

        Now I believe that would actually be a really good thing if Everett would allow a couple of dense nodes along the way. It’s less important to have high speeds at the end of the line than toward the CBD.

        But the people in Everett will feel cheated and complain.

      2. Seven billion for eleven miles between Lynnwood and Everett seems excessive.

        That’s over $600 million per mile for simple elevated trackage with stations mostly at pre-existing P’n’R’s. Now grant, those stations tend to be palaces, but they’re not underground. How could any one be more than a couple of hundred million? Isn’t 130th supposed to be $80 million, and that’s because it will have to be built around operating trains. Otherwise it would be $50 to !60 million IIRC

      3. For starters, there’s 20 years of inflation. $7 billion then may be the equivalent of a mere $4 billion in today’s dollars.

      4. The estimated costs for ST3 projects were stated in YOE$. Thus the $6.7 billion (inclusive of O&M costs)* listed for the extension from Lynnwood to Everett would already have inflation factored in.

        *Source: Sound Transit ST3 Plan, Appendix A: Detailed Description of Facilities and Estimated Costs

      5. “it’s likely that Tacoma can be built in the I-5 ROW, though it will make the Fife Station useless.”

        The Tacoma corridor study had both Fife and 99 options. They both had a Fife station and cost the same and had the same travel time. Fife city pushed for the 99 option to put it in the center of downtown. (As if a downtown is possible in such a car sewer: will Fife rise above expectations?) They’ were both elevated I think. It might be feasible to put the I-5 option on the surface but i don’t know if that’s been studied, so we can’t assume it would be much cheaper. One of the reasons for the I-5 alignment in north Seattle and Shoreline was that it would supposedly be cheaper, but later engineering studies showed that the freeway is so old and in need of replacement that ST has to avoid touching it because then it would be responsible for rebuilding the freeway. That made some of the cost savings evaporate, and thus undermined one of the advantages of I-5 over 99. So we can’t assume that surface is always much cheaper; you have to study it and check.

      6. On Fife my point is that even thought it’s only a long block, to bring the station to the north side of SR99, the location of the “SR 99” alternate, the deviation must be elevated in the same way the Midway, SE272nd and Federal Way must be. And yes, an I-5 alignment would probably have to be elevated west of the station because of the Fife interchange, but the actual station could probably be built at-grade if it were just east of the Emerald Queen. It would need some sort of transit-only bridge to serve the neighborhoods to the south.

        The “representative alignment” puts the station right at SE 54th where there is exactly zero opportunity for bus interchange and would of course need to be elevated.

        The cost differential may be non-trivial.

  2. This is why our transit is so poor compared to other countries: people just don’t value it, or understand the contributions it could make if it were comprehensive. Only one person above is trying to improve transit; everyone else is actively disimproving it, including Clibborn who seems to be taking Mercer Island Station and then turning on the provider and not allowing other cities to have the same. Mercer Island is lucky it’s right between Seattle and Bellevue, otherwise it wouldn’t be getting anything. I will give some honorable credit to the provision to protect light rail and BRT projects, but it’s irresponsible to not study how much it might distort or financially strain the network or ST as a whole. If the state goes really far in mandating light rail construction but denying revenue for it, then the might have to step in and fund the rail lines if they’re going to happen, and I’m sure the legislators would like that even less.

    I can see the education argument, that the state constitution says education is the state’s paramount responsibility, so it’s arguably unconstitutional to spend taxes on anything else while there are gaps in education. But then why is Sound Transit being singled out for cuts? Because it’s trains and car tabs, which are unpopular in some quarters?

    I don’t quite understand Valdez’ statement. I know Farrell did something positive but I don’t remember what. Is she supporting or contradicting Farrel?

  3. This bill is a steaming pile of BS, in 20 years we’ll be kicking ourselves for not building an even better system than ST3.

  4. To me grade separation is kind of a part of the voter mandated package (even if I would argue faster and more frequent Sounder and expanded Tacoma Link and feeder bus service would be a better investment for Tacoma and South King). As is the education component, IMHO. Part and parcel of the voter approved package! If the issue were *only* about the unfair rate of car value depreciation for MVET calculations, the only way to “fix” it was to increase the valuation for older cars and be revenue nuetral for ST3 as a whole. But the whole point has always been to take a bite out of ST, presumably to push for dismantling it when it can’t deliver on the now unfunded projects. Sets a dangerous precedent for the State legislature to have *any* say in people voting for a tax at the County level that 1) does not violate any State law (even then, you go to the courts!), and 2) had no choice but to use those older tables because of State law. Huge overstep on the part of supposedly “small government” legislatures. And if this passes, I say go to the courts because the Legislature is clearly overstepping it’s bounds here.

    1. Different people have different motivations. A small minority hates any thought of transit or trains, or any kind of transit except coverage and paratransit. But others just want their car tabs low, or are afraid of voters who vote against people who allow car tabs to be raised and tolls charged. Others are very concerned about education. Others see punishing Sound Transit as a way to bolster their reelection bid. especially with the media talking about Lynnwood Link’s cost overruns and the CEO’s problems.

    2. “And if this passes, I say go to the courts because the Legislature is clearly overstepping it’s bounds here.”

      How is it doing that? Doesn’t the legislature indeed have the right to correct this one provision dealing with MVET depreciation schedules?

    3. The legislature authorizes all taxes in the state. So it can take away taxes and override local votes. It just can’t tax different people in a tax district unequally. But it can treat newer and older cars differently, or light rail areas and non-light rail areas, because those aren’t intrinsically tied to certain kinds of people. I.e., wealthier people tend to have newer cars, but that rthat doesn’t mean no wealthy person has an old car or no working-class person has a new car. But if there’s systematic racial bias, then somebody could sue.

  5. Remind me- how many legislative elections will there be before ST-3 is supposed to be finished?

    Because I think there’ll come a time when enough voters will see enough value in transit development that the legislature will decide it’s time both to leave us alone and even start helping us.

    Also think that we can handle a lot of senseless strictures by rescheduling or sensibly altering the program for either least damage of actual progress. one Downtown tunnel. Delayed rail transit could design surface bus travel that will provided necessary local service

    Mainly, the more solid the plans we’ve got “shovel” I mean TBM ready, the less interference we’ll get. A lot of bullies are cowards, especially if they have to think about extorting money from their own constituents.

    So let’s start concentrating some postings on what we can do on the defense, to let the offense(ive) know they’re being ignored where it count.

    Mark Dublin

  6. I hope this makes the House & Senate so disagreeable t[] it means this fails.

    I hope it does.

    The time for compromise is over. Why?

    Here goes in one package, er, paragraph of reasons why: Thanks to Jessyn Farrell’s and Northwest Progressive Institute’s courage & resolve, the Eyman initiative to repeal the MVET died. This time last year, I was open to making a deal mostly to avoid the Eyman initiative. It has became clear to me most Republicans and right wing talkers whining about this and the structure of Sound Transit’s Board have bigger attacks in mind. We also have multiple project teams starting scoping – so for this to continue to loom over that process really deadens public involvement in those processes [ot]. Like I said, the time for compromise is over.

  7. Our state legislature is so god awful. I’d like to vote them all out.

    None of this drama would even have happened if they’d read the st3 authorization bill more carefully in the first place. So many layers of incompetence.

    This after the public records bill fiasco as well…

    1. Did some legislators deliberately keep quiet in order to blame ST and make it a campaign issue?

      1. It’s impossible to prove that. However, since one of their own caucus pointed out the use of the old schedule in open debate one of two things is likely.

        1) Republicans don’t listen to debate, even when one of their own members is talking
        2) They were laying a trap for the 2016 election

        (Actually, both might be true.)

        We report, you decide.

    2. I’d just point out that the legislator has passed a lot of good bills this session – see for instance voting rights. This transportation bill (and the recent public records bill that was vetoed) seems to be notable exceptions. But at least for the public records bill, public outcry did have an impact.

      Still worth noting that some senators in our region did vote against 5955 – Pedersen (43rd), Frockt (46th), Carlyle (36th).

      So if you don’t like the senate or house versions of 5955, there’s a narrow window of time to contact your legislators.

      1. On all of the issues I care a out WA state democrats have been terrible.

        They failed once again to pass even a heavily watered down carbon tax. They did the bare minimum on gun control, less than even some Republicans have endorsed. They haven’t done anything about the housing crisis or the homelessness crisis. They allowed people in rural areas to keep draining the water table without mitigating it. They passed a McCleary reform package that drastically raised taxes in the puget sound while lowering it in rural areas.

        Instead they’ve been busy covering their own butts by keeping their records secret, and cutting transit to pay for tax cuts on lexuses.

        Ask yourself, when has Frank Chopp acted in the interests of Seattle voters he supposedly represents?

        At this point I’d rather vote Republican than keep the current set of state Democrats in office. At least that would create space for a new set of Democrats to rent in the 2020 election.

      2. I will say I think Jay Inslee is decent, and he does his best with the resources available to him. However, he’s presiding over a garbage fire of a democratic caucus in the house and senate.

      3. Speaking of McCleary, how come people are up in arms about an increase in car tabs, but not property taxes, even though the McCleary property tax increase is more than the Sound Transit car tab increase for the typical homeowner driving a typical car.

        Sometimes, it feels like each dollar in car tabs has the pain of multiple dollars in property taxes. This is nuts. At the end of the day, a dollar’s a dollar.

      4. People ARE “up in arms” over the substantial property tax increase we are seeing this year due to the action taken by the state toward compliance with the McCleary decision. Renters will feel the impact soon enough as well, as property/building owners pass on these increases to their tenants when they can.

      5. Many people know that the “double whammy” of the significant State tax rate increase combined with continuing local levies will just last one year. The State is “pre-funding” their full assumption of all basic K-12 costs next year. Local levies will not be completely a thing of the past, but will fall dramatically in most places.

  8. Does anyone know a good candidate or what it would take to run someone against Frank Chopp? It seems to me he is too concerned with trying to be a centrist that he is ignoring the voters will and the needs of his actual district.

    Blaming Republicans feels disingenuous since they are now a minority in both houses. Why isn’t our leadership fighting for transit?

    Chopp has run unopposed to often. He is up for election again in November. Anyone have any transit friendly candidates they would like to suggest?

    1. Most of the Democrats outside the Central Puget Sound region don’t really care about transit, except as a social service.

      1. Sure, but it’s not unreasonable to expect Chopp to represent his constituents in the 43rd. I lived in the 43rd for 15 years, and I really only remember one person running against Chopp, and she was running on the Socialist Alternative party ticket. Needless to say, she did not do well. I second Rob’s call for a reasonable Democrat to run against him on a represent-urban-interests platform.

  9. They should stick an amendment in the bill to postpone the ST3 downtown Seattle tunnel! What a waste of money when there are so many other urgent needs. That Ballard line doesn’t need to go to SLU, there will soon be multiple Metro Rapid Ride routes serving that area. They should just run the Ballard line at grade on 5th or replace the historic monorail with a function elevated line and terminate the Ballard line at Westlake!

    1. What “other urgent needs”? Please be specific. South Lake Union in strangling in cars and Amazon isn’t nearly built out. Things will only get worse in the next decade and opening two stations in the district will make a big difference early in the 2030’s.

      Replacing the straddle-beam rubber-tired Monorail with a streel-wheel elevated standard railroad down Fifth Avenue would be a complete non-starter, not to mention that that difference in grade from the Westlake platforms to a new station would be four levels assuming a normal mezzanine style Sound Transit station.

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