Thursday, January 17, 2008

Battle Stations, Everyone

2 UPDATES BELOW -- Keep Scrolling.

We've been warning you for quite some time now about governance reform, most recently here.

Well, Josh Feit reports that the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Haugen of Camano Island, has written a bill that dissolves Sound Transit and replaces it with an elected board.

As he points out, this threatens the $750 million grant that University Link depends on.

I believe this is the bill. I haven't had time yet to fully digest it, but Section 310 is the one that deals with Sound Transit and incorporates it into the new organization, which would pretty much hire all of Sound Transit's old employees and assume its responsibilities.

Here's the procedural history of the bill. I see that other sponsors include Ed Murray of Capitol Hill and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Belltown, Queen Anne, and Ballard. Why Sen. Murray wants to mess with an organization building light rail through the heart of his district is beyond me.

Anyway, it's time that we mobilize to make sure this thing is dead, dead, dead. Briefly, why it's a horrible idea:

(1) Sound Transit consistently passes audits with flying colors. Special-purpose organizations with directly elected boards (Port of Seattle, Seattle Monorail Project, Seattle School Board) have a recent history of graft and incompetence. Why would we seek to replicate that governance model here?

(2) The Sound Transit board is filled with politicians dedicated to delivering real rapid transit. Lord knows who could get on an elected board with a few bucks from Kemper Freeman and the road lobby. Tim Eyman, everyone? I'm not a lawyer, but if I read Sec. 305(2) correctly, a new transit plan will require unanimous approval by the commission to be put before the voters, meaning one commissioner elected by people in Monroe can stop the entire region in its tracks.

(3) This creates some risk for the University Link federal funding agreement.

(4) The "Regional Transportation Commission" has a dual focus of roads and transit. Haven't we been through this already?

We have a Democratic super-majority in Olympia -- it's unbelievable we have to fight off our state government like this. If Governor Gregoire signs this bill, I will vote for Rossi this fall, simply so that the Democrats come up with a leader that is merely neutral to transit, instead of actively hostile. If this passes, there isn't anything left for Dino Rossi to screw up.

Contact your legislators.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has once again placed a thoughtful response in the comments. The bill I cited is now dead as of today, assuming that's what a "Senate Rules 'X' File" means.

It's not clear to me how that relates to the Haugen proposal that Josh Feit mentioned. Remain vigilant, but I don't see it listed anywhere under Sen. Haugen's sponsored bills.

UPDATE 2 (1/21/08): Sen. Kohl-Welles also replies in the comments, reaffirming her support for transit.

I firmly believe that the Seattle delegation considers themselves pro-transit and pro-rail. To be anything else would be both foolish and politically suicidal. However, to this layman it appears that their names keep on ending up on bills that we here at STB consider to be hostile to Sound Transit, and therefore hostile to rapid construction of new rail capacity. This probably has something to do with the proverbial sausage-making in Olympia, but it'd be nice if for once the maneuvering was over providing funds to accelerate or extend projects, rather than coming up with cheap administrative fixes that can be manipulated by the road-building lobby.

However, I promise to do a bit more homework on these bills. No more flying off the handle at Josh Feit rumor-mill posts. I owe that to the readers if I ask you to contact your legislators.

15 comments:

Michael said...

Wow.

jeremy said...

Our Seattle legislators ARE the problem when it comes to rapid transit. Keep in mind, they get PAID to drive, and enjoy free parking, sposnsored by...well, us taxpayers. Frank Chopp is the worst, followed by the West Seattle and Ballard delegations, who could care less about anything beyond another monstrous elevated viaduct.

On the most important issue facing this region, our so-called "progressive" are asleep at the wheel. It doesn't help that hapless interest groups like the Sierra Club support these cave dwellers with their buses+freeways "solution.

jeremy said...
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jeremy said...
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TroyJMorris said...

NO!!! Not crazy ol' Rossi.

Damn, I better get on the phone now so you won't ever have to vote for a guy named after a fictional dinosaur.

Anonymous said...

The bill referenced from is from last year. It is dead. While there was disagreement over the bill and it needed work, there was also a great deal of misinformation. Despite its flaws it was modeled on an initiative the environmental community wrote several years ago and considered running.
As the legislator who restored state funding for local transit(I recieved the legislator of the year from the transit organizations) and having sponsored other bills at Sound Transit request, I find it interesting that I am portrayed as anti-transit.
I might also add that legislators do not get free parking, we have to pay for it, including in Olympia.
Thanks,
Ed Murray

Anonymous said...

Mr. Murray, could you please respond to the criticisms in the original post? Martin is making a strong argument that you will seriously damage transit the Seattle area.

Thanks

Cas said...

Governance reform is a real danger, but maybe the way to counter it is not outright opposition but insistence that any governance reform come with additional pro-transit reforms. For example, a removal of the constitutional requirement that gas taxes fund roads and nothing else, or a requiement that any roads projects funded by a new agency be funded with tolls and other user fees, with a significant percentage going to transit in the corridor.

This forces the real agendas to the surface. If this is really about making agencies more accountable and not killing transit, the sponsors will agree to these other pro-transit changes. It would be worth the exposure to anti-transit candidates to the board if their hands were tied in terms of what they could do with roads projects. Any negotiation would have to explicitly include the completion of University Link and continued federal funding that was promised to Sound Transit.

If advocates won't make these changes, then they won't get their legislation passed.

Martin said...

Anonymous,

I believe Sen. Murray is stating that he does not advocate governance reform.

Previously on this blog, he had stated he would not actively pursue it this year. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues feel differently.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Ed Murray was mentioned. I think he was pretty clear a couple weeks ago: playing monopoly with transit agencies is not a concept he supports any more.

In Murray's place, the forces of darkness have taken it on as their new pet project:

http://www.scctv.net/scctv/sr_2007_1017.asx At 36:20, Kemper Freeman endorses the Stanton and Rice approach.

cas, I like your idea. But an underlying political problem makes it nearly impossible to explore; the small (well funded) minority of transit-haters is organized, fired up, and fairly adept (in that, they succeed at hiding their real agenda).

The pro-transit majority is a mile wide, and an inch deep - in that, they aren't as fired up and they are not organized. At all.

Given, it's a lot easier to shoot projects down than to hoist them up...especially when taxes are involved, and expecially when a large portion of the region's electorate adheres to head-in-the-sand provincialism. I think people who are supportive of REAL transit options need to stop taking it for granted that our leaders will "do the right thing" on transportation. We need to get active and organized.

From all that I have read on this blog, NW Progressive and Horse's Ass, I've come to the conclusion that there is zero-to-lukewarm support for light rail in the Democrat-dominated state legislature and Governor's office.

To be "PC" Puget Sound legislators will talk a good game when light rail comes up in a progressive audience. They like the concept of light rail. But they don't seem to like the practice so much. And none will carry any water to make anything happen (same goes for Seattle's Congressman, Jim McDermott, D-Africa)

The state legislators like their freeways, and they like their subsidized solo driver trips. For the vast majority of these legislators (even those serving in greater Seattle districts) light rail is viewed as "sucking up" their freeway money. Which is what hatched the governance 'reform' effort over at the Discovery Institute years ago.

Discovery comes up with all these absurdly expensive underwater tubes, deep bore tunnels, and massive lidding projects...but they never come close to funding these fanciful things.

Raiding the light rail piggy bank was clearly a strategy the anti-rail jihad came up with to make the Intelligently Designed Cascadia transportation mega-plan come close to penciling out. Just what Seattle needs more of: real pretty freeways full of real expensive, noisy, polluting cars and buses.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Sound Transit doesn't have to be dead. We just need to find new ways for ST funding that doesn't make most/all taxpayers mad, like Prop 1. And we need state legislators and Ron Sims to stop being dickheads. Look up at BC, the provincial (equivalent to state) government is helping out the Vancouver regional transit agency, Translink (but that came after the province restructured Transklink). But we don't need that. We need the state and ST to work together to modernize (but not widen) roads and build more, more, more, more, more, more rapid transit, at a low cost but is effective in improving mobility in this region.

Whoever introduced this bill should sit in the traffic that we would experience if ST was dead.

serial catowner said...

The one really solid thing Murray said is that the bill referenced in the post is dead. It might be wise, before getting knickers in a knot, to find out if Haugen did indeed introduce a bill &tc.

And heed that wake-up call. Senator Kohl represents the 36th, which has stayed solidly Democratic for about 50 years (or longer). If she's a co-sponsor of the bill there's a reason, and it is not that she couldn't make a better living outside the legislature. If there is indeed a new bill in the hopper, it would be smart to find out why supporters are supporting it.

IMHO, the tea leaves here are just too deep to read without giving them a few stirs to see what lies under the surface.

Blastor said...

"Here’s one major problem with this approach right off the bat: $750 million.

That’s 43% of the $1.7 billion segment. If Sound Transit goes away that money is gone. That means light rail is dead"

Why do you think light rail opponent and Discovery Institute "fellow" John Niles has been such a big proponent of getting rid of ST.

Niles is ABSOLUTELY FOCUSED www.bettertransport.info/pitf on killing off U Link and North Link.

He hates subways, because of a personal obsession which originated when the DC Metro took his empty one-seat bus ride away one day.

Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles said...

This was a bill from last year and, no, I do not want to kill Sound Transit. I'm one of its strongest supporters in the legislature. The bill last year did other things which I supported. Transportation is a huge issue in the Puget Sound, and a coordinated effort that involves planning for ALL forms of transportation is greatly needed. An integrated, multi-modal transportation governing structure to the Puget Sound region could address all our citizens’ vast and varying needs. And, as a Board member of Transportation Choices Coalition, I support all transit and multi-modal transportation projects.

serial catowner said...

Well, this may be a bill from last year, and it may be "dead", but I would be very surprised if it didn't show up again. If you read SB5803 Engrossed you will find that a lot of work has gone into preparing what seems logically inevitable- transportation governance for over a million people between Everett and Tacoma.

I think a lot of the concern here is based on the mistaken impression that a weak elected board of commissioners would serve as a rubber stamp for the state highway department.

What would really happen would be that the regional commission would have enough muscle to go head to head with the state highway department.

The state highway department has always been a pork barrel for rural areas. Aside from the historical anomaly of the ferries, rural population density is too low to support public transit as an alternative to roads. Thus, a state "transportation" department tilted towards rural areas becomes inevitably a state highway department.

I think this is why Republicans are opposing this- they see clearly that a new agency representing the urbanized voters of King, Pierce and Snohomish will be acting to keep transportation dollars in the greater metropolitan area.

I think Senators Kohl-Welles and Murray are being a little coy here. The bill obviously represents a tremendous amount of work to modernize transportation int he metro area, and I really don't see how it fails to come back.

And that, I think, is not a bad thing. The devil, as they say, is in the details.