The author, One America Executive Director Rich Stolz, says State Senator Reuven Carlyles argument against ST3 creates a false choice between transit and education.
The author, OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz, says State Senator Reuven Carlyle's argument against ST3 creates a false choice between transit and education. Sound Transit

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In 2012, Puget Sound Sage, OneAmerica, and Transportation Choices Coalition came together to form the Transit for All Coalition. Transit has the potential to connect people to affordable housing, good jobs, healthy foods, better healthcare, and a multitude of amenities. We are guided by the conviction that when we preserve and grow access to frequent, reliable, and affordable transit service we reduce our collective carbon footprint and ensure that communities of all races and incomes have the opportunity to be healthy and thrive.

Over the past three years, we have worked closely with both Sound Transit staff and the Board of Directors, as well as members of communities throughout Sound Transit’s taxing district, to help shape the ST3 package. This historic investment delivers thousands of jobs, efficient modes of connectivity, land for affordable housing and mixed-use development near transit, and relief on our congested roads for those who sit in traffic or breathe its caustic fumes.

OneAmerica has also led on efforts to reform our education system, and we’re deeply concerned over our state’s failure to adequately fund strategies in our schools to close the opportunity gap for students of color and the children of immigrants and refugees. Reliable access to transportation, like education, is an incredibly powerful anti-poverty tool. We work deeply in communities who depend on both.

Senator Reuven Carlyle’s recent post in PubliCola and his arguments on this week's Blabbermouth podcast create a false choice that these communities cannot afford to make. Washington State cannot fund education at the expense of other vital services, including transit. This kind of thinking invites other legislators to hack away at the social safety net in lieu of raising sustainable, progressive revenue for a long-term solution to our education funding crisis.

In suggesting that Washington State must forego critical investments in public infrastructure in order to fund education, Senator Carlyle sends several misleading messages. He says ST3 “redirects” property tax revenue from education spending and into transit, implying that without ST3, the same tax revenue would automatically flood into education funding. However, this could not happen without a separate vote of the people to raise their property taxes specifically for education funding. ST3 does not take tax revenue away from any other programs.

Carlyle contends that cities and counties—including those in the Sound Transit taxing district—can never increase property taxes by more than 1 percent annually. This is a state law that can be overturned the same way it was created; through a vote of the State Legislature in which Senator Carlyle serves. But this distracts from another crucial point: overreliance on local property taxes—and the state’s resultant patchwork of school funding levels—is largely responsible for our education funding troubles. The Washington State Supreme Court already rejected reliance on local property taxes as a solution. Senator Carlyle has long led the fight for progressive and sustainable revenue in Olympia, and we hope he will continue to find solutions that do not force false choices on families across the state.

By casting light rail as a luxury item, Senator Carlyle ignores the very real plight of many low-wage workers in the Puget Sound region whose commute times grow as housing prices in our urban cores skyrocket and wages don’t keep pace. We believe that this $54 billion package is a vital mode for access to jobs, services, and yes – education, particularly for the region’s low-income and otherwise transit-dependent communities.

The legislature is currently accruing massive fines for failing to address our state’s underfunded public education system; yet in his evaluation of Sound Transit 3, Senator Carlyle ignores the costs of failing to address our infamous traffic congestion.

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In 2015, congestion in the Seattle area cost us $3.2 billion, nearly $1,500 per commuter, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. In plain terms, that means sitting in traffic is wasted time away from family and friends, and lost productivity for businesses in the region.

Our region is growing and its demographics are changing. The urgent need to provide affordable, accessible transportation options will not disappear if we do not pass and implement ST3. Neither will forgoing vital investments like ST3 automatically provide us with sustainable funding for public education. The Transit for All Coalition recognizes that these are false choices, and we stand by our conviction that Washingtonians deserve better.

Rich Stolz is executive director of OneAmerica.