State Sen. Bob Hasegawa with a visual aid.
State Sen. Bob Hasegawa with a visual aid. State of Washington (Illustration by Mike Force)

To Bob Hasegawa, everything is "rigged."

Seattleites are "feeling like the system is rigged," the state senator said, channeling Bernie Sanders as he launched his campaign for mayor earlier this month. Four minutes later, he repeated the line.

What causes gun violence? People "feel like the system is rigged or you feel powerless in a system," he told the South Seattle Emerald.

Remember back in November, when voters across the region, including 70 percent of Seattleites, voted to massively expand light rail over the next two decades?

"Rigged," Hasegawa told the Emerald in the same interview.

Transit advocates were frustrated but unsurprised by the mayoral hopeful's statement. In Seattle's transportation circles, Hasegawa's reputation on transit ranges from lukewarm to traitorous.

Hasegawa believes that reputation is unfair. So we sat down at The Station in Beacon Hill last week to give him a chance to clear the air.

Hasegawa reminds us that he has "voted for every Sound Transit proposal" in the legislature and voted for Sound Transit 3 on his own ballot in November.

"I do support Sound Transit 3 and that’s misinformation that has not gotten corrected out there," he said.

Then, we got into the details.

On Sound Transit 3:

Okay, so maybe "rigged" wasn't exactly the right word, Hasegawa admits now. "That may have been a bad choice," he said. "Predetermined, maybe. Because I think some people think rigged means change the numbers in some shape and kind of way. That’s not what I’m implying, that it was cheating."

But he's still pissed about how ST3 unfolded. Why? Because the measure was discussed in Olympia as a potential 15-year, $15 billion package, but then showed up on people's ballots with a $54 billion total price tag. False advertising, Hasegawa claimed, as he flipped through pages of documents provided by the Democratic caucus last year referring to the project as a $15 billion package.

We have been here before. If you're anything like me, you're sick of arguing over this completely specious talking point. I debunked this claim last year and others have, too. In short: The state legislature authorized the taxing rate Sound Transit could tap to bring voters a light rail package (adding up to $15 billion over 15 years), not the total amount of a tax package. So, Sound Transit took the authority they were given and then extended the timeframe. During an official public feedback period, people asked for more light rail and said they wanted it sooner, rather than later. The agency came back with a 25-year, $54 billion package. That's the number Sound Transit officials campaigned on all year. That price tag was the focus of ST3's anti-spending opposition. Everywhere: $54 billion.

So it's hard to imagine any informed voter who went for ST3 in November not knowing the cost. Even more difficult is imagining how a serious person still thinks crying "bait-and-switch" is a meaningful critique of Sound Transit. Yes, legislators discussed a different number than what ended up on the ballot. But lawmakers knew they were voting on a tax rate increase, not an allocation! And voters also knew it would cost $54 billion from the get-go, and they! still! voted! for! it!

Voters in Seattle, the city Hasegawa wants to run, supported ST3 by the widest margin in the region.

But. *Deep breath.* The guy is running for mayor, which means this argument will keep coming up and it's worth knowing exactly where he stands.

"If they had told us it was a $54 billion package, I may have still voted for it," he said, "but at least I know what I’m voting for. We have, as a legislature, an obligation to consider all the funding needs of the state. And if this potentially soaks up all of the taxing capacity that the public will tolerate, how do we fund McCleary?"

Here's our exchange that followed:

HEIDI GROOVER: But you’re not sure that a $54 billion package does soak up all of the taxing capacity because you said you might vote for it?

BOB HASEGAWA: From my sense right now, I don’t know. I am hearing nothing but negative—that’s the feedback coming back around. Of course, the positive people aren’t necessarily going to write in and say thank you for raising my taxes way more than we were expecting. See the problem is that’s what happens with initiatives—people don’t really dive into the weeds with what the proposal is, so I’m not—that’s why I haven’t voted to overturn any of these Sound Transit 3 things because the public voted in it, so I’m totally good with all of that, what the public voted on.

HG: So the other issue is that when sound Transit initially designed the ST3 package and went out for public feedback, overwhelmingly the feedback they got was we want this faster or we want more of it. So that requires a bigger package. That was part of their justification for going to $54 billion, was to get more projects and be able to show people all the projects across the taxing district that they’re going to build. So, that sounds like what people want.

BH: Of course people want transportation, yeah. Who doesn’t? The gridlock is horrible. That’s why we voted to support this package because we understand it’s horrible. I don’t want to be sold on this and end up getting this. I’m responsible back to the voters for what I’m supporting. So, if you’re going to come at me with something, tell me straight up what you’re coming at me with and let me make my own decision and be held accountable. So, what I’m trying to do is hold the Sound Transit board accountable so when people are saying—because word’s getting back to me that Hasegawa is anti-transit or he’s anti-ST3, that’s not true. I’ve never voted against ST3.

Shoot me now.

On Car Tab Taxes: Car tab fees help pay for the ST3 projects. Yet, even though voters approved increasing those fees, lawmakers have faced a storm of backlash over the way Sound Transit calculates cab tab fees (a calculation lawmakers in Olympia approved). So, legislators are scrambling to comfort drivers by cutting those fees. Republicans want to slash the fees, which would mean cuts in revenue for Sound Transit. Democrats have their own proposal that would still cut fees, and in turn ST3 revenue, but not as much. Now the parties are at an impasse.

Every Democrat in the state house supported the Democratic plan, and Democrats in the state senate tried a similar middle road through an amendment. Hasegawa voted for that amendment, but the majority Senate Republicans rejected it.

Hasegawa said he had wavered on changing a plan that voters approved, but ultimately went with his caucus. You know, loyalty. The Democratic plan could cost the agency up to $2 billion. Transit advocates say the revenue losses could delay some light rail projects; Hasegawa said his idea for a municipal bank—basically his entire platform—could help Sound Transit refinance debt and mitigate that cost. But it's also clear the senator thinks he's being unfairly targeted for voting with the party line.

HG: And so how do you foresee that [Sound Transit] will make that money up?

BH: No, they don’t. That’s why it’s just kind of stupid. But the caucus wanted everybody to hang together on that issue because it took a lot of the pressure off from legislators who were being held accountable for what I thought was a decision that Sound Transit made. They’re not the ones suffering the consequences of their decision. We’re the ones suffering the consequences.

HG: So you sound maybe a little skeptical of it but you voted for it anyway?

BH: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s changing what the people voted for. To me, those are hard lessons that have to be learned. That’s why the initiative process gets so out of control. People don’t know what they’re voting on.

HG: But Sound Transit will still lose some funding under the proposal that you supported and they will have to—

BH: Under the proposal the Democrats supported.

HG: Yes, that you and your fellow Democrats supported.

BH: All the Democrats, yes.

On Parking and That Time He Compared Light Rail to Dog Poop:

"It was just something that came out when I was sitting there talking," Hasegawa said about this 2015 KIRO interview in which he compared light rail's impacts on parking to "a person walking the dog, takes a dump on your front lawn, you expect them to pick it up, right? And clean up after themselves."

"Probably not the best analogy," he said last week, "but I think it’s very typical of the frustration that is felt in the neighborhoods."

When Sound Transit built light rail through south Seattle, the project created a new problem: Traffic from people who drive in from the suburbs, park in neighborhoods near light rail, and then hop on the train. To remedy that problem, the city created purchasable permits to allow residents to park in the neighborhood and discourage so-called "hide and rides." For years, Hasegawa has tried to get Sound Transit or the City of Seattle to pay for those permits instead of charging residents. Transit advocates question why a public agency should pay for car owners to have exclusive access to a public street.

Today, Hasegawa stands by his position and says, as mayor, he'd find a way for the city to pay for the permits.

On Sound Transit's Board:

Some people want to change the way Sound Transit is governed, switching from a board composed of elected officials from around the region to a directly elected board. Sounds boring, right? Who cares? Here's who: Anti-transit Republicans looking to fuck with the agency that builds your light rail.

A Republican-led proposal would replace the current board of elected officials with part-timers who would be prohibited from holding any other elected position and would make $10,000 a year. Transit supporters were surprised this year when five Democrats in the state Senate joined those anti-transit Republicans supporting that plan. Hasegawa was one of those Democrats.

"It’s the right thing to do," Hasegawa told me. "If transit people think that boards should be able to do whatever they want without any accountability, then I totally disagree with the transit people on that point."

Oh boy. Supporters of the current structure argue direct elections would make the board more vulnerable to political pressures and could hurt coordination between the agency building new train tracks and the cities and counties those tracks run through. Hasegawa said that coordination will happen either way.

BH: I don’t see this proposal as preempting that. They can and should do that, even under this proposal. Being a member of the board is not the only way that they can coordinate. In fact I’m not sure it is the best way for them to coordinate. My whole thing is about accountability and transparency in the decision making process and equity in the decision making process. Where’s the equitable voice? Everybody who’s being gentrified out of high rent areas in Seattle are being forced into generally further south and south east King County, that is not an area which is going to get much benefit out of the light rail proposals that are a huge part of ST3. Those areas need a voice for equity for those people who are being displaced out of areas so they have to use transit to get back to the minimum wage jobs in Seattle.

HG: So how would a directly elected board address gentrification in any way differently than the current board?

BH: It would give people from the different parts of the taxing district at least somebody they could go to to represent their interests. Right now, maybe you could go to your mayor if you’re in southeast King County or wherever it is—Snohomish County, whatever—but it’s not the primary obligation of that person. It's like a secondary consideration. The primary consideration is operation of a city, managing the city.

Hasegawa argues that, "if you don’t have direct accountability, you lose control, which is fairly obvious in the way this thing morphed from $15 billion to $54 billion."

"Yes, everybody wants their entire area served," he adds, "but do we pay for a 25 year plan right now? Why can’t we just sort of build it out?"

Here's why.