This is a very clear statement.  h/t Jason Weill

Seattle voters couldn’t be more clear:  They demand better transit and they are willing to fund it. Tim Eyman’s I-976 was demolished in Seattle, losing by over 3-1. This follows huge victories in Seattle for transit in 2014 (Seattle TBD), 2015 (Move Seattle), and 2016 (ST3.)

Despite repeated and very clear messages from Seattle voters, Washington State dedicates virtually zero funding to transit.  Worse, the State doesn’t properly enable us to fund our own transit.

Since ST3 passed in 2016, most of the debate in the state legislature has centered on various schemes to cut MVET funding, when it should have been centered on finding better ways to fund transit. Voters in the Sound Transit district proved that by voting no on 976 by nearly the same margin they voted yes on ST3 in 2016.  That result was in spite of an off year election which meant low turnout which typically trends conservative in most of the district.

Transportation is by far the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State. The rapidly worsening climate crisis demands immediate action. It’s critical that the State legislature act now to put in place a progressive and long-term funding source, such as capital gains or a carbon tax, for sustainable transit. The legislature has the power to make the legal battle over I-976 irrelevant. We don’t have to risk the transit people rely on every day and a critical part of our response to the climate crisis on the outcome of a single court case. 

The coming post-2020 census districting changes will make Washington districts more urban.  Nearly half of all King County growth occurred in Seattle since 2010.  We’re hopeful that coming changes to districts will signal to the legislature that they should pay more attention to urban votes.  

In case your repeated votes weren’t enough to get the message through, please join us by contacting your legislators directly and telling them that we need progressive funding for transit both now and for the future.

The State Legislature as a whole cannot act without the support of Seattle legislators. It’s time for Seattle legislators to make directly funding transit a top priority. It’s a rare chance to do the right thing and an incredibly popular thing at the same time. 

This article was written by Seattle Subway.

55 Replies to “Seattle legislators: fund transit now”

  1. While state level funding is entirely reasonable for rural transit agencies that offer only lifeline service, and don’t have the tax base to fund it on their own, big cities are different. Not only do they have a much larger tax base, and don’t need help from the rest of the state, bit they also require a funding level where asking people in Ellensburg to pay tax dollars to Seattle transit is not reasonable. The state also can’t spend money it doesn’t have. I976 affects state revenues too.

    For big cities, the right solution is local tax authority, ideally structured so that the tax rates – and the service you get for it – increases the closer you get to the city center. Overlapping districts with KCM, ST, and Seattle TBD effectively do this, whether intended or not. The role of the state should be to create the necessary local tax authority to allow cities to get the service they need.

    For the immediate aftermath of I-976, the state should ensure that local taxing authority continues and not enact Eyman’s initiative themselves, should the courts strike it down.

    There is the separate issue of how to maintain city level operations funding during the court battle, but I would argue that state level intervention isn’t really necessary. Fact is, the city of Seattle has the money, it’s just a question of priorities. Instead of keeping our buses running, the city wants to build a downtown streetcar. Yes, I know the feds are paying for most of it. But, the $50 city level contribution is still plenty to keep buses on the road while the lawyers fight it out.

    1. Transit should be 100% state funded, at a set dollar-per-person level that is 50% greater than what Seattle residents fund now. The state should send this money to counties to manage locally

      This idea that big cities don’t need state help ignores the reality of revenue streams, which results in lower-income areas like Tacoma and Everett getting a lot less transit, even though they arguably need a lot more than wealthier areas.

      1. On the contrary, state funded transit would be a recipe for huge transit cuts within Seattle. Outside, Seattle, there is zero political appetite for that level of spending. If Seattle’s transit is limited by the amount of taxes people in Yakima are willing to pay, Seattle will end up with Yakima-level transit service. This is unacceptable.

        And, it might be even worse. With Seattle TBD, Seattle money remains in Seattle. With statewide funding, it would get spread thin, throughout the state.

      2. asdf2,
        I think the state ought to chip in a lot more in mobility grants but for the reasons you state multiple ways not necessarily operating dollars. The problem is the WSDOT transit grants office hasn’t required grantees to advertise being a grantee. I’m sure you’d see a difference if voters were more aware that state grants fund rural transit buses…
        P.S. One would think Jay Inslee being a supposed Climate Governor would have done a lot more to help transit in this state.

      3. “dollar-per-person” means massive subsidy of lower cost rural areas. This sets up the situation where lower cost more rural areas look at their lavishly funded government and demand tax cuts while urban areas look at their stingily funded government and demand spending increases.

      4. We should be cutting taxes and fees. I own a business that employs 700 Seattlites. I’m already considering moving most of my employees to remote status and moving our headquarters out of state. Enough with the taxes and fees already. I’m for any legislation that further cuts our taxes

      5. Dave, how do your employees get to work? If clients/customers come in person to do business, how do they get there? If they all drive, how much space are those cars taking on the roads, how much does it cost to provide parking spaces for them? How much is the city damaged by the other 1.2 parking spaces each car requires (a dedicated one at home and shared ones at their supermarket and mall)? These parking spaces and wide roads push all buildings apart and make it harder to walk between them and make the landscape ugly and depressing. Then there’s air pollution, carbon emissions, foreign wars to secure oil for our allies, etc. And people who can barely afford to spend $8,000 per year to maintain a car. Maybe some of your employees are those working poor. (Fun fact: my Seattle-and-King-County transit pass costs $1,188 per year.) Is all this less important than being in a location where taxes are low and all employees have to drive?

      6. @Dave,

        I think you’re just trolling. But hey, prove me wrong, move your company out of state. It would certainly help Seattle with its traffic and affordable housing issues, and it *might* even help your business.

        Do it.

    2. Sounds more like an axe to grind with CCC then an attempt to make a serious dent in loss of transit revenue.

      1. No, it’s not. Seattle car tab revenues are around $25 million/year. If the court battles, including all appeals, takes two years, this means, in order for Seattle to maintain existing levels of service in the meantime, it has to come up with $50 million from somewhere else to potentially give back in refunds, should it lose in court.

        The streetcar money is an obvious source for where this $50 million could come from. It’s certainly much better than the alternative of parking the car tab money in the bank while cutting service, and having seasawing service levels should the city win in court, or switch to a different funding model in 2021. Not is just spending the money and optimistically hoping for a court win fiscally prudent. If the city loses in court and has 30 days to issue $50 million in refunds, but the money has all been spent, what are they supposed to do? Declare bankruptcy?

        It’s possible there could be money elsewhere in the SDOT budget to cover this contingency, but assuming there’s not, something has to be cut, and that something should be the streetcar, not bus service.

        The streetcar plans were made before I976, with no anticipation of the measure passing. The fact that buses happen to be funded by a source that Eyman targeted while the streetcar is not is not deliberate prioritization, but pure happenstance. It is time for prioritization. Preserving our bus service needs to come first.

    3. You’re right that it’s probably not reasonable to ask someone in Ellensburg to chip in anything to help fund Seattle transit. Mainly because Seattle and King County sends over $3 billion each year to prop up the poorer counties. They are stealing our own money and don’t even really know or care since they keep voting down our own right to tax ourselves to pay for our own transit. Seattle Times had an article about how much King County subsidizes the rest of the state last month. It’s bonkers.

      So I propose we just stop funding these poor counties. Let them fend for themselves. We keep the $3 billion each year and help ourselves out for once.

      1. It’s not as if they’re building BRTs or Links in these rural counties. You have to understand that money going to many of these counties is spent on building and maintaining access roads along rivers to dams so that employees can get to work (the corp, fed/state land and privately owned farm/ranch land, in many cases, doesn’t allow employees to live close to the rivers and dams). Also building roads is needed so that wheat trucks can get access to grain storage facilities, semis can access fruit cold storage units, west siders can access their 2nd homes in Chelan, Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee, state controlled fishing and game lands and etc. If the westside wants electricity to run Boeing plants, have access to facilities for freight, access to 2nd homes and etc, then the rural counties need subsidized. Their is no way that taxing the average salary of a rural employee (~ $40,000) is enough to cover these demands. And a final point is that rural roads cover long distances, unlike what King County residents are accustomed to driving, and these long distances are expensive to maintain (not to mention the toll that colder winters and harsher summers play in their maintenance).

      2. It’s also not like rural roads only benefits the people that live there. Anybody in Seattle who goes hiking or skiing drives on those roads. Anyone in Seattle who eats depends on trucks that drive on those roads to get the food from the farm to the supermarket.

      3. Those rural roads mostly only benefit the locals and really should not be state funded. Read Strong Towns: they are quite clear on this and advocate reversion to dirt and gravel in places where they cannot fund their own roads.

    4. This is absurd. A functioning, thriving, big city is a very good thing for states to have, and transit is an important part of that. In most states, it’s common for the state to fund a small portion of big-city transit (something like 8-10%, as opposed to 0% here); obviously not enough such that it’s reasonable to say small city/rural voters are funding it in any meaningful sense (the big cities still generally pay more than they get in state fund funds). Is it really your position this is wrong and bad and shouldn’t happen?

      1. @djw,

        I think at some point we have to move towards are more equitable way of distributing tax revenues.

        I’m not saying King County shouldn’t contribute anything to other counties and state wide functions, but the current system of massive King Co subsidies of the rest of the state really has to stop, if for no other reason than that it encourages inefficiencies.

      2. I think his point is that doing that is politically impossible. Fifty years ago, sure. But now, it just won’t happen. There is really only one way to get high quality transit in the cities and it is by giving local areas the right to tax themselves at a higher rate.

        Just look at what happened with education. Education is way more popular than transit funding in low density areas, and yet there were plenty of districts with very low spending. It was only after McCleary that the state has started funding basic education. Transit would be worse. There would be both poor spending on a state level *and* no right to improve things locally.

        This does mean that some districts will be out of luck (just as they were with regards to education, pre-McCleary). They will fail to pass a local transit levy, and live with poor transit. The best hope for those areas would be some widespread state funding, designed to help specifically those areas (i. e. a basic transit funding program). But well before that happens, Seattle should have the right to fund the transit it wants.

      3. My point exactly. Giving the state control of the funding and service level of Seattle transit would result in a level of service similar to Tacoma at best, likely worse.

        The best we can do on the state level is for it to let us tax ourselves and get out of the way.

        Statewide funding for rural routes, especially those that span multiple counties, like Skagit Transit 90X, is reasonable, since the cost is tiny, and there’s no other entity with the money and mandate to do it. But, a big city needs far, far more transit than what rural voters outside the city would be willing to stomach.

      4. “A functioning, thriving, big city is a very good thing for states to have”

        Tell the legislature that. Tell the people who voted for I-976 that. They’re the ones that are hindering it from happening.

    5. There are arguments on both sides of state funding. The presence of nearby Seattle is what makes Ellensburg Ellensburg. Otherwise it would be like a small town in North Dakota or northern Alaska. The nearby city provides a market for their agriculture, tax revenue for Ellensburg’s infrastructure and state services, and it creates the conditions for local jobs and a reason to attend the university. Isolated North Dakota and Alaska towns don’t have that. (And ignore the oil because it’s location-specific.)

      An ideal state policy would recognize that urban areas need urban transit and rural areas need rural transit — like Germany has. The transportation authority (of whatever structure) should follow best practices in providing transit and road infrastructure, prioritizing people’s trips rather than car thoroughput — again like Germany and Canada. Duesseldorf, a city Seattle’s size, has half-hourly 24-hour S-Bahns to regional cities, several light rails, pretty comprehensive bus service, regional trains to surrounding regions, medium-speed and high-speed trains across the country, and highways. Small towns and rural areas are on the regional trains every few hours, and you can make a train-to-train transfer directly to the international airport.

      Vancouver is expanding its Skytrain and BRT network based on people’s trip needs, not on artificially capping taxes or preserving GP lanes and parking lanes for SOVs. I think the entire province pays for the Lower Mainland’s transit or at least part of it, although I’m not sure. But Vancouver and its suburbs is seen as the engine that powers the province, not as an alien bastion of liberalism that must be chained so it doesn’t get its greedy paws on our rural money, or that we can gratuitously damage to express righteous condemnation of its sinfulness and make its residents become conservative chaste libertarians like ourselves.

      Direct state administration of what is now Sound Transit, Metro, Community Transit, etc, could be good or bad depending on the state’s policies and attitudes. So I’m not wedded to any particular structure, and I’m afraid of what the current generation of legislators might do, either to starve Seattle or to give it an ineffective park-n-ride oriented, peak-focused transit becaus that’s what suburbanites think everybody needs. The state could simply give funding to autonomous agencies and let them design and operate the network. It could increase grants. But the problem with grants is that they’re one-time, or must be renewed every year, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get it the next year. That makes it impossible to plan long-term or be efficient, in the face of needs that are ongoing every year, not one-time.

      1. Demographics should destroy the power of regressive, backward rural areas as soon as the 2020 redistricting finishes. Already happened in Nevada, where the rural areas are incapable of outvoting Vegas and Reno. It will happen soon in Washington, as the major cities gain population and the rural areas lose population.

    6. I strongly disagree that state funding for urban transit is inappropriate. We already have tons of state funding for transportation, but it’s nearly all for car-oriented transportation. Why should we concede that state transportation funding is only for helping people drive around our state, and if people want to move around our state by other means they should have to raise funds locally for that purpose?

      Instead I would love to see the state transportation department diversify into using their budget to solve the most pressing transportation challenges in our state regardless of mode. Where are the places that we could improve transportation infrastructure to save the most people the most time compared to what we have today? Sometimes the best tool for the job is a highway, but in our urban areas that is becoming less true with every passing year. Let’s have transit be allowed to compete for the same pot of funding as highways. May the most useful projects win.

      1. No one said it was inappropriate, they said that it wasn’t going to happen, at least at levels that Seattle needs. Do you really think the state is going to spend hundreds of millions — if not billions — on urban transit? That would mean either spending a fortune providing lots of very empty buses in low density areas (most of the state) or providing a service mostly to Seattle. I don’t see either of those things happening. From a political standpoint, that is the problem. Transit is most cost effective, and popular, in an urban environment. It is easy to argue that benefiting urban users benefits everyone, but that doesn’t mean that it will change the way that representatives vote. In this era of political tribalism — with one side firmly in the hands of anti-tax, reactionary demagogues, and the swing voters on the other side just a bit weary of them, it just won’t happen. Heck, we couldn’t even get the ability to add HOV violation cameras, nor has the state even come close to considering changing HOV-2 lanes to HOV-3. Both of those changes wouldn’t cost a dime, and yet have been stuck because of the political process.

        It makes sense to fight for things that can happen. Giving cities the right to approve tax increases to fund transit would be huge, and is possible.

  2. Messages sent.

    Hope this works.

    Getting really sick n tired of being told to vote Democratic for Governor and getting so little in state funding for transit…

  3. Regardless of how it works, one improvement would be to have independent agencies direct transit funds rather than the operator itself. The industry has many measures to use — density, transit dependency, ridership measured different ways, important transit destinations, aggregate travel time savings and so on. If the legislators set up a measures-based agency option, transit dollars would go to the most productive projects rather than to a pet project by a certain elected leader. The California model of a combination of statewide and county-level funding is a good model for this.

    1. “The industry has many measures to use — density, transit dependency, ridership measured different ways, important transit destinations, aggregate travel time savings and so on.”

      And Metro has studied those and has the reports on what it needs. it just needs a way to fund them.

      1. I’m merely pointing out these things:

        – Measures can be applied statewide

        – with multiple operators even in our region, subsidies can be allocated to operators based on a common set of measures, rather than independent measures as defined by each operator. That provides independent accountability. This is not only a KCM/ST issue but is an issue for Pierce and Snohomish Counties. As we continue to blur operator lines (ST3 funded some local projects and STBD raised money for Metro service rather than Metro itself), fairness and accountability across operators will only grow in importance. It’s not 1990 anymore.

  4. Has anyone talked about defunding transit in WWA to help with the homeless situation. Buses can be repurposed as homeless shelters with mobile showers. Metro can become a VIA like service for all of Seattle. 1,500 buses can house a substantial number of homeless in Seattle. To combat traffic, new freeways and additional parking structures could be built.

    1. Morgan, think about an area you visit frequently that has traffic problems.

      Then ask yourself, would this place be better if there were more cars here? I guarantee that you would answer No.

      New freeways and parking garages means more cars. A new freeway makes traffic worse on every single connecting road. Parking (garage or surface) has the same effect.

    2. Portable single person homeless shelters can be built for under 300 dollars a piece, including labor costs. The homelessness issue isn’t about what to do or how to do it, but rather about nobody in a position of power caring to do it. The plans have been gathering dust since the Murray administration.

    3. Does a city of 720K people and a region of 4.2 million people need transit mobility? What would happen if hundreds of bus routes stopped functioning and hundreds of thousands of people stopped using them? You’d either get Third World levels of gridlock or a big chunk of the population couldn’t get to work, do errands, go to medical appointments to keep healthy, or take care of their relatives who don’t live with them. That would severely damage the economy.

      A sane policy would be to have both robust transit and a reasonable baseline of housing for everyone at a price they can afford. You know, like the Scandinavian countries do, and northern Europe, and Canada and New Zealand, and other industrialized countries.

      1. I think we all agree that transit needs to be funded, the question is, at what level. In some ways, statewide funding is like enlarging the ST taxing district to include the entire state.

        Given the outcome of numerous elections, I feel that subjecting Seattle transit to statewide politics is dangerous. The state needs to just get out of the way and allow Seattle to run transit (and pay for it) itself.

      2. asdf2,

        The State has a legitimate interest in preventing local transit districts from BONDING themselves too deeply for capital projects. No Bailouts, please.

        But insofar as annual levies for operations go, the state should simply prescribe the allowable tax methods and let municipalities and counties decide their own levels of taxation.

  5. Has anyone published the precinct data results between 976 and ST3, but only showing the precincts in the Sound Transit District? I briefly recall this being mentioned on the STB podcast, but it would be great if someone could publish a map.

    1. I had talked to some people trying to make these maps work. They had told me the shape files interacting with precincts versus ST’s taxing areas is a little too funky at the moment. People are trying as obviously there is a lot of interest, but they can’t get it quite right yet.

    2. I did this for my subarea, the ST SnoCo subarea, and posted a comment about it on a recent thread. In brief, these were the results:

      YES 53.6%
      NO 46.4%

      YES 51%
      NO 49%

      I felt no compunction to attempt to map the results however as the precinct data was sufficient for my needs.

      1. Looks like a shift of about four and a half percent away from ST support. That’s not unreasonable given all the problems Lynnwood Link has uncovered.

      2. It looks like attitudes changes not a all (or very little) since ST3 passed.

        That spread is just the difference between running in an off cycle election and a presidential year.

  6. Redistricting after the next census really *should* be kind to Seattle. Currently it is about 140,000 per legislative district with the number of districts capped at 49. With Seattle population growth of about 160,000, that means Seattle has a very good chance of picking up another, wholly Seattle legislative district. That means effectively one more state senator and 2 more representatives for Seattle

    And since the number of districts is capped, the gains in Seattle need to be made up elsewhere. Effectively rural and Eastern WA will lose representation.

    The same thing will happen with the congressional districts. Both the 5th and the 4th should grow geographically, and the 8th should shift more to the west side of the Cascades. The

    PS area will generally benefit. E WA and rural Washington will generally lose.

    1. I’m expecting the same outcome. The 8th was generally drawn as the only “Cascade crossing” district and a relatively small minority of the district will be East of the Cascades after 2020. East King County will likely be a majority of the district. Not only will Seattle generally get to add a seat, but King County outside of Seattle will also generally add one — at the expense of Eastern Washington. The rural loss in SW Washington and the Olympic Peninsula will probably be compensated by growing areas of Pierce and Thurston Counties.

    2. We can’t wait two years. And three positions would not give us a supermajority. They would just give us a small incremental improvement, which could be completely negated if one of the new legislators were like O’Ban.

  7. I don’t think transit should be subsidizded. It should operate on 100 percent farebox recovery. Look at the Hong Kong system. Cut all external funding and let metro and ST right size service levels with what they can afford from the farebox. Sick and tired of supporting lazy libs.

    1. Lazy libs fund the rest of the state, how about we keep our money and call it even?

      Ps: Hong Kong is exactly like Seattle. Great idea!

    2. It’s a question of values and what we want our cities to be like. I disagree with the premise. A city fundamentally needs an effective transportation system, and cars and highways don’t scale. (They leave people out: those too young or old to drive, who can’t afford to drive, or don’t want to drive. The space they take pushes things apart and makes the city less convenient and cohesive.) What other alternatives are there? Walking doesn’t scale either. Microtransit has the same problems as cars. Mass transit (large buses or trains carrying a large number of people in strategic corridors) is the only way to scale to a city of 100K or 720K or 3 million people.

      Should this transit be 100% funded by fares? Well, who benefits from the lines? Only the passengers? No, the entire city and all residents benefit. Commuters getting to jobs allows them to earn a living and spend money that generates other jobs, and they generate tax revenue. That benefits the city’s economy and allows it to accomplish more. That benefits all residents, whether they use the transit or not. Libraries and parks and streetlights and 911 service aren’t funded by user fees; they’re funded by a general tax. Isn’t transportation as fundamental as these?

      Still, you can say that 100% fare recovery is a desirable goal. OK, how can you ensure that everybody can afford the fee? We live in an era of high housing costs and healthcare costs that have absorbed any discretionary money many people had. How can you make it so that everybody can afford $10 fares? And what about the gigantic subsidies we’re giving to car drivers? It’s not fair to expect transit riders to pay 100% when the subsidies for roads, parking spaces, car pollution, and car-dependent development dwarf the size of transit subsidies.

  8. Seattle, and Mercer Island, and a vast majority of the Eastside illustrated in this graphic. Seattle’s argument is strengthened when it doesn’t paint itself as an ideological island that is cursed to suffer with the idiocy of absolutely everyone else in the world. Transit funding is something the Sound Transit funding area wants.

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