On the local option for transit funding

At the Bellevue forum on transit funding, Rep. Judy Clibborn described how a Republican legislator probably won’t support the local option for transit funding that is being considered by the legislature, HB 1954. According to that bill, King County, for example, could tax locally to support Metro Transit, which will otherwise have to cut service next year. Legislation to allow such local funding should be easier to pass in the legislature, since Republican legislators in the eastern part of the state wouldn’t feel they were potentially subjecting their constituents to taxes.

But the Republican legislator is inclined to oppose the bill.

Said Rep. Clibborn, the Republican legislator just doesn’t “get” why car riders should have to subsidize public transit. He thinks, If someone wants to ride the bus, they should pay for it themselves. Why force others to pay for it?  She explained to him that even car drivers would benefit from less crowded roads and less pollution. And many car drivers would be willing to support such a bill.

Republicans really don’t like government and taxes. They don’t understand the Public Good. I suppose many Washington State Republicans have even taken a “no tax” pledge.  (Does anyone know how many have?)

Perhaps they want to return to the Articles of Confederation.

For a short summary of HB 1954, which also funds roads and other transportation needs, see the legislature’s brief Bill Analysis of HB 1954.  See also Coalition Pushing for the House Transportation Bill and Resolution in Support of Local-Option Transit Funding.

Two years ago the King County Council agreed to support a $20 car tab fee to prevent cuts to bus service.  Jane Hague, who spoke at the forum and sounded reasonable, and other Republicans on the Council had at first agreed with Tim Eyman to oppose the fee. But after hearing from constituents and from business who want bus service (to prevent gridlock), Ms. Hague agreed to support the fee.

I heard from transportation officials that many businesses do definitely support public transit (as long as they don’t have to pay for it).  Their workers can’t get to work if traffic doesn’t move.  Public transit is especially important for many low-income workers.

One concern is that the proposed transit funding relies on the gas tax and a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, which are regressive.

We need a state income tax!

A second concern is raised by Martin H. Duke in Coalition Pushing for the House Transportation Bill:

In one of the basic asymmetries in Washington between the way the legislature treats its drivers and its transit riders, the bulk of  transit funding is subject to a public vote, while the new highways are deemed too critical to risk at the ballot box. Personally, I’m no fan of direct democracy, but it would be nice if the sustainable transportation options had the same number of veto points [fewer] as the anti-urban ones.

Finally,  the transportation bill builds too many roads.  As Mr. Duke points out:

The bulk of the bill is about raising the gas tax (from 37.5 cents now to 50.5 in 2015, Sec. 101). While gas tax is an excellent source of revenue for roads, the package is heavy on new highways rather than maintenance.

According to Beau Morton of the Transit Rider’s Union, “The statewide transportation package recently proposed by House Transportation chair Judy Clibborn contains $3.9 billion just to start new highway projects, while leaving only $675 million for cities and towns throughout the state to invest in their transportation infrastructure and transit systems.  …. While most states allocate on average about 17% of their transportation budgets for transit, in Washington it’s only 2%.”  See The Statewide Transit Funding Crisis.

Unfortunately, the state constitution specifies that gas tax funds must be used for “highway purposes.” (Ferries are deemed to be highways too.)

People think Washington State is progressive. In some ways — marijuana legalization and gay marriage –  I suppose it is.  When it comes to funding education and transportation, we might as well be Alabama.

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