The Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), a proposed taxing district that encompasses King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, has been dramatically changed by the state House Transportation Committee, making it more palatable to pro-transit groups like the Transportation Choices Coalition. Among other changes, the bill, sponsored by Seattle Representative Ed Murray (D-43), opens up RTID's project list to non-road projects, including transit, and relies less on a (regressive) sales tax and more on a (progressive) motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) on cars.

In addition, Murray's bill:

• Sets up a transportation planning commission to create an integrated regional transportation plan;

• Gives large counties (like King County) the ability to create "transportation benefit districts" to fund transportation projects, including transit, with local rather than regional or statewide taxes; and

• Prohibits both RTID and Sound Transit from going on the ballot in 2006, a change Murray said some Democrats pushed because they thought it would hurt the party's members in this year's election.

The news isn't all good for transit supporters, however—particularly those who backed the monorail. Even before the monorail was killed last November, its backers speculated that road supporters in the state house and senate wanted to hand the monorail agency's MVET over to the RTID. In this latest version of the bill, their fears are borne out: The MVET has been nearly tripled from .03 percent to .08 percent, and—in a separate but also monorail-related change—Seattle now has the right to use the monorail agency's taxing authority for any "non-monorail transit." Peter Sherwin, the manager of last year's unsuccessful monorail campaign, calls the new limitation "a sad restriction," adding: "Of course [legislators] wanted it for roads... I don't think anybody is surprised that part of the objection to the monorail was by people who wanted to access that [MVET] tax."

Murray defends the portion of the bill that excludes monorail, noting that there was "huge resistance" to allowing Seattle to build another monorail. "You can always come back another day and change that one word if the monorail becomes popular again," Murray says.

If the bill passes out of the state house this week, it will move on to the senate, where the Transportation Choices Coalition's Rob Johnson, whose group is supporting the bill, says he expects pro-roads legislators "will try to weaken the bill a lot" in the coming weeks.