WA GOP: Fund filthy roads first

WA GOP: Fund Filthy Roads First

For background, see Democrats Challenge Republican Two Thirds Rule, Shut Down Senate Transportation Vote

The Democratic amendment, which lost on a party line vote, would have also blocked a controversial GOP amendment that takes all sales tax revenue from transportation projects out of the general fund (about $1 billion) and puts it into the transportation package. The Democrats argue that GOP provision will decimate education funding and social service funding.

Seattle state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, SE Seattle) proposed a similar amendment, which also lost along party lines. Her compromise amendment would have also gone along with the GOP change, but only after the legislature came up with a plan to fund K-12 first. Her amendment mocked the GOP “Fund Education First” mantra; the GOP has repeatedly proposed not funding any of the budget until they fund education. “It looks like funding education first is just a slogan and not something they’re actually willing to do,” Jayapal said. In addition to the sales tax change and raiding the toxics account, the transportation package includes a few other things the Democrats don’t like: Only about six percent of the money goes to multimodal projects; Sound Transit got 25 percent less taxing authority than they requested; and the legislation has a provision the Democrats have taken to calling “the poison pill.” That provision says that all the money for pedestrian, bike, and transit (that’s that six percent for multimodal) turns into roads-only money if governor Jay Inslee uses his executive authority to green light low carbon fuel standards.

Surprise finding: What's blocking Bertha, the tunnel boring machine?

Matt Preedy, deputy WSDOT viaduct replacement program administrator, and Chris Dixon, project manager with Seattle Tunnel Partners, announced today that engineers had discovered what’s blocking Bertha, the giant tunnel-boring drill stuck beneath Pier 48 on the Seattle waterfront:  Rodney Tom and Pam Roach of the Senate Majority Coalition.

What's blocking Bertha, the tunnel boring drill: Rodney Tom and Pam Roach of the Senate Majority Coalition

Engineers discovered that Tom (D-48th LD) and Roach (R-31st LD) had sabotaged Bertha by inserting rocks in its gear mechanism.

This is fitting news, since the Senate Majority Coalition has been blocking passage of the Democrats’ transportation passage, including funding for Metro Transit. Tom and the Republicans are holding the transportation package hostage to their demands.  They want to overturn the prevailing wage (more union busting), weaken environmental requirements for road projects, and exempt transportation projects from the sales tax (thus further starving the general fund).  And they won’t allow King County to institute a local funding option for Metro.

Nor will Tom and the Republicans close tax loopholes.

A certain Democrat State Senator told me that Pam Roach is perhaps the most powerful person in the legislature, because she regularly blocks bills for consideration. Like the Tea Party Republicans in the US House, Roach makes sure to veto any measure that might help the middle class and the poor.

By the way, the wikipedia article on Pam Roach has the following story about her infamous temper:

In 2010 fellow Senate Republicans banned her from the Senate Caucus after colleagues told her she had repeatedly mistreated staff and should get counseling to manage her anger. Republicans barred her from the caucus room, though she could still vote on the Senate Floor.[6]

Despite Roach’s attempts at appeal, the disciplinary sanctions against Roach were maintained for almost two years, until they were abruptly lifted in February of 2012, when the Senate Republican leadership wrote a letter to Sen. Roach inviting her back into the Republican caucus.[7] Not long after Roach was invited into the Senate Republican caucus, Senate Republicans- joining with three Democrats- utilized an obscure procedural motion to wrest control of the budget writing process from the Democratic caucus and pass their own budget. [8] However, in Roach’s absence, even with the votes of the three Democrats, the Republicans would still come up one vote short of being able to pass their budget on the floor of the Senate. In one interview, Roach said, “I was the 25th vote (for the GOP), and my caucus finally did the right thing.” Her return to the caucus room prompted Mike Hoover, a GOP staffer who had been verbally abused by Roach in the past, to sue the Washington State Senate for $1.75 million for creating a hostile workplace by readmitting Roach back into the caucus room.[9]

In September of 2012, the Washington State Senate reaffirmed their sanctions against Senator Roach. [10]


A Critical Moment for Public Transit

State lawmakers are at an impasse, with Sen. Rodney Tom‘s Majority Coalition Caucus stubbornly holding our transit funding hostage to their austerity agenda.  Dow Constantine has announced that King County will pursue a “Plan B” to save Metro, sending a regressive tax package (a flat Vehicle License Fee of up to $100 and a sales tax increase of up to 0.2%) to voters as early as April. Seattle council members are scrutinizing the city’s powers for alternative options.  And with no sure funding on the horizon, Metro is planning for 17% service cuts to begin next spring.

2014 will be a critical year, and the events of the next few months could determine the future of King County’s transit system for years to come. What should the Transit Riders Union do? We want you to help us decide – and we can’t do it without you. Join TRU now to have a voice and a vote at our first Membership Meeting of 2014. Let’s work and fight together to save and expand our public transit system!

Public Forum January 16th

Mark your calendar! The Transit Riders Union is collaborating with Seattle Central Community College and other groups to hold a community forum on the future of King County Metro on Thursday, January 16 at the Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway. There will be two sessions, one from 12:00 – 2:00 pm and one from 4:00 – 6:00 pm.  Come listen, question, discuss and take action!

Transit is a great example of how government can play a positive role

Transportation is a great example of the positive role government can play in providing services. But Republicans have prevented the passage of a transportation budget, and without further, Metro Transit will have to make drastic cut to bus routes.

Mayors, city council member and the business community are nearly unanimous in calling for passage of a transportation package that funds transit.  See The “Majority Coalition” hearing on transportation in Bellevue and any of numerous editorials in local newspapers.

But Republicans have been dragging their feet and demanding “reforms” before agreeing to a transportation package: weakened environmental permitting, an  end to the prevailing wage (yet another knife in the back of the Labor), or the exemption of transportation packages from the sales tax (yet another hit to the general fund).  They’ve even refused to allow King County to ask voters to approve a local funding option for transit.

Is there any legitimate reason other than spite and leverage for Republicans to prevent King County voters from pursuing a local funding option?

Transportation is a great example of the positive role government can play in providing services. But it’s also an example of how government can play a bad role. (Such examples abound in the national arena.)

The proposed GOP budget favors cars over public transit and bikes. As Rep. Ross Hunter says in his post on transportation, “Less than 2% of the total value of the Senate Republican proposal package supports public transit, bike and pedestrian mobility and stormwater management. This may make sense in some parts of the state, but it doesn’t do so here” in the Puget Sound area.   For more about the GOP transportation package, see We Don’t Need a $12B Transportation Package.

It’s best to see the Republicans’ inaction on the transportation budget as part of the long-term Republican plan to drown government in a bathtub. The “no tax” pledge was key.

Nationally, the sequester was good a realization of the pledge. Its only redeeming feature is that it reduces Pentagon spending too.

According to Why Obama’s Big Inequality Speech Missed Out on the Political Realities That Stand in the Way of Progress, without drastic changes, the sort of cuts we’ve seen in the last year will continue for ten years.

Even in WA State, anti-government forces are shrinking government. Education, public transit, and social services have taken big hits.

A central challenge is to inform the public about why we need government and about our regressive tax system.   Few members of the public are well-informed about these issues, due to the deterioration of journalism.

But people hate crowded roads, so this is a perfect chance for Democrats and progressives to educate the public about government, taxes, and what will happen to our country if we don’t fund good government.  Health care and education are similar. But can we get our message out?

 This traffic jam courtesy of Rodney Tom and the Senate Republicans


We Don’t Need a $12B Transportation Package


King County should save Metro on its own.

Earlier this year, the US House of Representatives—a body that has shut down the government over health care reform, taken a hatchet to food stamps, opposed regulating greenhouse gases, and held immigration legislation hostage—still managed to support a federal transportation bill that devoted roughly 20 percent of its funding to transit + bikes + walking and 80 percent to roads.

How much worse could the road-heavy transportation package being floated by the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus in a state like Washington possibly be? The $12.3 billion package that surfaced this week would spend less than 2 percent of that on transit and improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.

It would increase gas taxes in the state by a whopping 11.5 cents, mostly to fund dozens of highway projects at a time when traffic projections around the state are holding steady or dropping. It would spend nearly $9 billion on building roads and throw in $1 billion to maintain them. By contrast, it would devote $42 million to bicycling and pedestrian projects, $37 million to safe routes to schools, $12 million on making streets work better for everyone and about $114 million on transit projects and grants.

It is such a terrible and ridiculously lopsided proposal that a negotiation using it as one of its bookends, which is underway in Olympia right now with the goal of reaching a “deal” by next week, seems highly unlikely to achieve any reasonable balance or progress in creating a 21st century transportation system. That is why we should simply say: No, thanks. We don’t really need this.

King County can go it alone

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (which could cease to exist after elections are held in November of next year) apparently thinks it has the Puget Sound region—and anyone who cares about making streets safer for kids, reducing pollution, and giving people convenient alternatives to sitting in traffic—over a barrel. In order to convince us to swallow retrograde highway expansions, they have included in the package long sought-after proposals allowing King and Snohomish counties to ask voters to save the region from crippling transit cuts.

For instance, the proposal would allow King County to ask voters for a 1.5% motor vehicle excise tax to fund transit operations and road maintenance. It’s the best and most egalitarian option to fill a $75 million annual shortfall at King County Metro caused by a recessionary drop in sales tax revenue and provide a more stable funding source. (On top of that longstanding structural problem, state funding for extra bus service from West Seattle during viaduct construction will run out next June.)

But it’s not the only option. King County has wisely come up with a Plan B, which is starting to look more like a Plan A, to raise that revenue without having to go through the Legislature. It could form a Transportation Benefit District and ask voters in all or some portion of the county to approve a 0.2% sales tax increase and a flat vehicle license fee of up to $100.

Incidentally, King County Metro has just given us a sneak peak of what will happen if it can’t raise additional funds. It is, quite frankly, a horrorshow. More than 80 percent of bus routes will either disappear, change to provide crummier service levels, or become more crowded. (In my unscientific survey of one, one of the three bus routes on my commute will be rerouted through neighborhoods, rendering it so slow that I would never be able to make it to work or my daughter’s after school care on time. The second will become an express-only bus, and the third will likely become so crowded in the mornings that people waiting at Aurora Ave. bus stops will get passed by more often than we are now.)

The number of weekday buses on parts of I-405 headed towards Microsoft will drop by 23 percent. The number of buses headed south to SeaTac Airport on 99 will drop by up to 31 percent. People trying to get from east King County to Bellevue on I-90 will lose 15 percent of weekday bus trips. If people no longer have workable or convenient transit options, many of those who can will get back in their cars. And then people will start to realize what bad traffic really looks like.

The MVET option is the most progressive way to raise Metro revenue, since people who can afford to drive spendy new cars would pay more than than people nursing beaters, and the revenue stream would also grow with inflation. Sales tax and flat vehicle license fees are unfairly regressive, and they burden the people in our society who can least afford it. But so does an 11.5-cent gas tax increase that forces low-income drivers to pay for massive highway expansions they don’t want and may never use.

From Plan B to Plan A

So while King County would prefer to use the MVET, as long as that option remains embedded in a larger, controversial transportation package, it may not be a workable revenue source anyway.

Metro’s financial picture starts to get really dire towards the middle of 2014, which is why the county is launching a public process now to discuss service cuts. To avoid or minimize those, the agency ideally needs to start collecting new revenue next year.

But if the state Legislature decides to put a transportation package to an up or down vote of state residents, or someone tries to repeal it by referendum, that vote could occur as late as November of 2014. If state voters reject the larger transportation package (perhaps on the basis that it’s a terrible roads package or that people don’t want to pay for it), the county’s revenue source could go down with it. And even if it did pass, King County would then have to separately ask county voters to approve the MVET. By that point, Metro would already be well into cutting routes, losing customers, and possibly inflicting irreparable damage.

There is a simple fix to spare the state’s most populous and prosperous counties from the consequences of deep and economically unsustainable transit cuts. The Legislature could simply uncouple a bill that gives counties local options for raising transit revenue from the larger statewide package, and pass it with an emergency clause allowing it to go into immediate effect. Naturally, the Senate Majority Coalition is unwilling to agree to this and lose one of its main bargaining chips.

Absent that, it makes more sense for King County to take its chances with just one vote—the one that could occur as early as next April and that asks local pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, and drivers whether they are willing to stand by and let our transit service fall into an almost unimaginable state of chaos and disrepair.

Raising revenue for King County Metro through a sales tax increase and vehicle license fee isn’t the ideal scenario. And because cities can also form Transportation Benefit Districts and the state caps the vehicle fee that any single person would pay at $100, a countywide TBD would make it necessary for cities and the county to share.

But Plan B looks a whole lot better than hitching the fate of King County’s transit system to an irresponsible roads package that’s likely to crumble under voter objections anyway.

We at Sightline are a community-supported resource and we can’t do this work without you!

Originally published at Sightline Daily

Cheer the Majority Coalition if you like ….

Enjoying the gridlock on I-405 and I-5?

Wanna see more bridges collapse, like the Skagit River Bridge did earlier this year?

Happy about the mentally deranged man who stabbed two people in Pioneer Square, killing one of them?  Or about the practice of “warehousing” mentally ill patients due to the lack of psychiatric beds in the state? (See The Seattle Times’  ‘Boarding’ mentally ill becoming epidemic in state).

Then you should cheer for the state Senate’s “Majority Coalition”, under the leadership of Bellevue’s own Democrat-In-Name-Only, Sen. Rodney Tom.

The gridlock and bridge collapse and stabbing and lack of treatment are perfect examples of the dangers of the Republican assault on government.

According to Annon Shoenfeld of the King County Mental Health Chemical Abuse and Dependency Service, the county has lost $30 million in funding in medical in last four year, despite increased demand.   And over the past six years the state has cut 250 psychiatric beds and more than $100 million in psychiatric funding.

Earlier this year the Senate rejected the House’s transportation package that would have funded roads and saved King County Metro bus routes.  Without extra funding for Metro, 20,000 – 30,000 extra cars will be on the road, and thousands of low income workers will struggle to get work.

At last week’s town hall forum on Transportation at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, dozens of businessmen in fancy suits pleaded with state legislators to pass a transportation package that would allow employees to get to work and trucks to delivers the goods.  Dozens of local mayors and city council members offered similar testimony.

The Majority Coalition is demanding so-called “reforms” as a condition of their approval of a transportation package. They want to weaken environmental protections, lower prevailing wages requirements, and exempt transportation projects from the sales tax —  thereby starving the general fund of much-needed revenue).

Senate Republicans are also resisting a proposed 10 cent per gallon gas tax.  The current state gas tax of 37.5 cents hasn’t risen since 2008, when it rose 1.5 cents.  There isn’t enough money  to keep up with inflation and population increases.

And they proposed an “education first” budget that would starve social services.

But without government services, our economy and our social system won’t function.