Yesterday, in a windowless room in Olympia (why do they always have to be windowless?), almost 100 people from around the State of Washington testified for three hours about the need to approve a statewide transportation package. The package is hugely important for more reasons than I can list here, but perhaps chief among them, for Seattle anyway, is that the fate of light rail in the area depends on it.
Keep in mind:
The testimony was before the House Transportation Committee. In January, this same committee approved giving the voters around Puget Sound the chance to approve up to $15 billion taxes to fund Sound Transit 3, a light rail expansion that could connect Seattle to West Seattle, Ballard, and neighboring cities. Again: this is about the mere chance to vote to tax ourselves. But with the exception of one representative, it was a party line vote—Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed. Why would Republicans, who say they're for local control over local affairs, vote against it? Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Olympia) warned that Seattle would “tax [itself] into oblivion,” the Urbanist reported. (Dude: We want to tax ourselves and you have no business stopping ourselves. Individual liberty! Simple as that. Fuck off!)
As for the senate, Sound Transit taxing authority passed out of that body earlier this month. But the Republican majority in that chamber capped it at $11 billion. That's $4 billion short of the $15 billion Sound Transit says it needs to build out light rail.
Senator David Frockt (D-Kenmore) offered an amendment to give Sound Transit $15 billion in taxing authority. Senate Republicans voted it down. And they added a so-called "poison pill" to the legislation that explicitly holds "multi-modal" transit investments hostage. If Governor Inslee orders cleaner fuel standards, investments in things like light rail, bike paths, and buses get diverted into road projects. I wrote more about the dynamics in the Senate, and three pasty stooges who you should pressure to support light rail, over here.
So without further ado, here's the overwhelming testimony yesterday in favor of a transportation package that lets us build light rail. The house committee members said nothing and asked no questions.
Note that while it's possible I and the Seattle Transit Blog missed it, we didn't hear a single person—out of dozens of government, industry, and nonprofit leaders from around Washington—say that Sound Transit's authority should be limited to $11 billion, instead of $15 billion. Perhaps this is because there is no credible argument for the limit.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland brought the heat: "When you get off the plane at Sea-Tac International Airport, you can ride light rail to Seattle," she said. "And we should be able to do that to Tacoma too... Give us $15 billion of authority... This is something that our region needs desperately. They [voters] have told us unequivocally that they need transit."
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who sounded bored and didn't drop any f-bombs: "If one accident happens, as it did with a truck full of salmon, the entire system clogs up... The only way we can function as a city and as a region is with the full $15 billion authority."
Silver-tongued silverfox King County Exectuive Dow Constantine: "It remains critical that the legislature provide the full $15 billion. Without it, we just can't get there in terms of the transit system, the [Sound Transit] board, or the voters."
Payday lending shill Senator Marko Liias (D-Lynwood) talked about needing a light rail line from Seattle to Everett, and said, "We need you to add the full $15 billion in authority to make sure my constituents get what they need out of this package."
Straight-man King County Council Member Joe McDermott: "The public wants light rail to reach Redmond... Nothing less than the full $15 billion will meet the voters' pent-up demands for transit."
Renton City Council Member Ruth Perez: “I grew up in Mexico City, at the time the largest city in the world. I feel like I have spent my whole life stuck in traffic. I feel the same way now."
Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci said the burden of inaction will be an escalating traffic nightmare. She warned there's been a 39 percent increase in traffic delays in recent years and "it's only getting worse."
Bellevue Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace said he was a "proud Republican." His cooperative work on transit with Balducci, he suggested, should be a model for the legislature.
Also testifying in favor of a robust transportation package: Redmond Mayor John Marchione, Edmonds Dave Mayor Earling, Kent Mayor Suzette Cook, Kenmore Mayor Dave Baker, and officials from Mercer Island, Snohomish County, Vancouver, Spokane, Richmond, and more.
There wasn't a peep from anyone suggesting Puget Sound shouldn't be able to fully build out light rail. In fact, the only piece of the hard-right agenda that attracted support was the "poison pill" on low carbon fuel standards. Predictably, it came from representatives of truckers, steel mills, and oil companies who said clean fuels are prohibitively expensive (but didn't explain how else to stop climate change).
In a statement, House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said she expects the transportation package to be moved out of committee in the next few weeks.
Right now—before it goes back to the Republican-controlled Senate—is the time for transit advocates to set a "high water mark," according to Transportation Choices policy director Andrew Austin. In other words: the committee (you can e-mail them too) needs to approve $15 billion in taxing authority and strip out the poison pill, at the very least.
If they don't, ready your pitchforks. Can you imagine anything more undemocratic than either chamber ignoring the overwhelming consensus of an entire region and denying us the ability to tax ourselves for an essential civic good like light rail? One the state itself refuses to fund?