Updates at the bottom.
Beginning at 11:00 a.m., the Seattle City Council will meet to vote on a measure that would place a $60 car tab fee on the November ballot to fund transit, road, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements. (Watch live here.) But while it's been clear since last week that the council, which is acting as the Seattle Transportation Benefit District board, opposes a never-ending tax that would provide long-term funding for rail, council members are now mulling something more surreptitious.
According to language being floated this morning, the council would postpone any of the car-tab revenues from paying to even study expanding the streetcar network. Not only a slap at Mayor Mike McGinn—who is thoroughly stymied in his campaign promise to put light-rail on the ballot within two years of election—it would prevent implementation of the city's Transit Master Plan that recognizes three potential high-speed rail corridors.
The provision circulating before the meeting says: "After capital funding for [the First Hill streetcar, South Lake Union streetcar, and a connection between the two] is secured from city, public and private funding sources, other corridors will be considered for planning, alternatives analysis, and environmental review."
In other words, all rail planning—even analysis or environmental review—would be on hold until those projects are complete. That's far less specific than banning rail planing, but it has the same effect, at least for now.
It's unclear if anyone will actually roll out that amendment. Nonetheless, city council member Mike O'Brien is pushing his own counter-amendment that would allow revenue to be used for "other corridors identified as priorities in the Transit Master Plan," meaning rail.
UPDATE AT 12:27 PM: Council Member Nick Licata's anti-streetcar amendment appears dead. In response, Council President Richard Conlin proposes an amendment to an $80 car tab free that says this: "After a finance plan for these corridors has been adopted by the Seattle Transportation Benefit District board that identifies city, public and private funding sources, other corridors may be considered for planning, alternatives analysis, and environmental review." This would only require the board to develop a financing plan for the streetcar extensions already in play—not secure the financing itself—before moving forward with additional streetcar routes. Council Member Tom Rasmussen finds that too restrictive, but the board approves Conlin's amendment by a 6-3 vote. Nonetheless, the $80 fee was rejected and Conlin's amendment died with it. [Correction: This post originally said that the Conlin amendment passed with the $60 car tab fee; in fact it applied only to the $80 fee, which died, and the amendment died with it. My apologies for the mix-up.]
UPDATE AT 12:55 PM: The board/council approves the measure unanimously thereby sending a $60 car tab fee to Seattle voters this November.