With the upcom­ing long ses­sion of the six­ty-fourth Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture set to begin in a week, The Seat­tle Times has opt­ed to devote a por­tion of its edi­to­r­i­al page to com­men­tary on state issues, instead of the usu­al syn­di­cat­ed fare.

Read­ers of this morn­ing’s paper may have noticed that the Times invit­ed the chairs of the House and the Sen­ate’s respec­tive trans­porta­tion com­mit­tees to weigh in on Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s trans­porta­tion plan. Though the two op-eds appeared next to each oth­er and were about the same height, that’s about all they had in common.

The longer col­umn on the right, penned by Judy Clib­born (D‑41st Dis­trict) was filled with sen­si­ble argu­ments and obser­va­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, her remarks on giv­ing Sound Tran­sit new rev­enue author­i­ty (which is part of Gov­er­nor Inslee’s pro­pos­al) stood out to us as extreme­ly compelling:

The oth­er sig­nif­i­cant trans­porta­tion issue this leg­isla­tive ses­sion will be autho­riz­ing Sound Tran­sit to pur­sue its new long-range plan. There is a hunger around Puget Sound for new invest­ments in pub­lic trans­porta­tion that bridge the gaps between com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing the expan­sion of express bus lines, light rail and Sounder trains. These sys­tems not only pro­vide a valu­able ser­vice for the pas­sen­gers who ride them dai­ly to work and school but also ben­e­fit those who dri­ve by keep­ing cars off the road and reduc­ing gridlock.

Autho­riz­ing this new author­i­ty is a mat­ter of local con­trol. The Leg­is­la­ture would sim­ply be allow­ing the peo­ple of Puget Sound to decide at the bal­lot box if they want as much as $15 bil­lion in new pub­lic trans­porta­tion invest­ments, such as light rail to com­mu­ni­ties such as Fed­er­al Way, Everett or Redmond.

If approved by the vot­ers, the rev­enue would be raised from local fees and tax­es, mean­ing there would be no tax or oth­er cost to res­i­dents in the rest of the state — only a ben­e­fit in the form of less grid­lock and a friend­lier busi­ness climate.

We agree. The Leg­is­la­ture needs to empow­er Sound Tran­sit to con­tin­ue build­ing the rail spine that our region so bad­ly needs. Uni­ver­si­ty Link and Angle Lake Link are com­ing online next year, and North and East Link will fol­low in the years after, but those exten­sions aren’t enough. We need more rail with­in Seat­tle link­ing its neigh­bor­hoods togeth­er (West Seat­tle and Bal­lard come to mind) plus rail that links sub­urbs like Fed­er­al Way and Fife to Seat­tle and Taco­ma as well as each other.

Read­ing Clib­born’s op-ed, it’s clear that she and the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus  under­stand what needs to hap­pen this ses­sion. They’re ready to get to work.

But, judg­ing by the con­tent of Sen­a­tor Cur­tis King’s short­er col­umn (which ran to the left of Clib­born’s piece) it appears Sen­ate Repub­li­cans are not.

Though King’s col­umn clocks in at six hun­dred and ten words, it is almost com­plete­ly devoid of sub­stance. Con­sid­er King’s open­ing paragraph:

When Gov. Jay Inslee pro­posed his new state trans­porta­tion pack­age in mid-Decem­ber, it was billed as an effort to spark dis­cus­sion. While the pro­pos­al has cer­tain­ly inspired con­ver­sa­tion, those of us who have been knee-deep in trans­porta­tion dis­cus­sions dur­ing the last two years weren’t caught off guard by much of what was presented.

Now, con­trast that with Clib­born’s opening:

Trans­porta­tion this ses­sion is about build­ing a bet­ter future for Wash­ing­ton, and pri­or­i­ty No. 1 is pass­ing a crit­i­cal­ly need­ed trans­porta­tion invest­ment package.

See the dif­fer­ence? King wastes space stat­ing the obvi­ous, while Clib­born cuts to the chase and says, in just a few words, what it is that needs to be done. Then she imme­di­ate­ly begins lay­ing out her ratio­nale for action.

Not King, though. He goes on to claim:

As antic­i­pat­ed, Inslee’s project list pro­vides amply for King Coun­ty and much less so around the rest of the state.

Giv­en that King Coun­ty is home to a third of the state’s pop­u­la­tion and has to put up with the worst grid­lock, it should­n’t be sur­pris­ing that Inslee’s project list pro­vides amply for King Coun­ty. It would be flawed if it didn’t!

King seems to be infer­ring that the gov­er­nor is ignor­ing oth­er areas of the state, but his impli­ca­tion is offered with­out any sup­port­ing evidence.

Since April, I’ve looked at roads, over­pass­es, bridges and blue­prints. I’ve com­piled a com­pre­hen­sive trans­porta­tion project list with sub­stan­tial­ly more mon­ey for high­way projects than Inslee’s pro­pos­al. Nine­ty-six per­cent of those projects get fin­ished and are locat­ed through­out our state.

What projects is King talk­ing about? He does­n’t say, nor in the online ver­sion of the op-ed does he link to a page where his research can be accessed by the public.

The governor’s plan to pun­ish big pol­luters was no sur­prise either. How­ev­er, it won’t be the gas and diesel indus­try that would pay. It would be the f [sic] peo­ple in our state who own a gas- or diesel-pow­ered vehi­cle who would foot the bill. Every per­son who needs to dri­ve a car or truck to get to work would be pun­ished because they are the “big, bad polluters.”

The first thing that stood out to me when I read the above para­graph at the break­fast table was the beau­ti­ful­ly placed typo that appears in the mid­dle sen­tence: It would be the f peo­ple in our state who own a gas or diesel pow­ered vehi­cle who would foot the bill.

Yes… the f peo­ple, ladies and gen­tle­men! It’s always nice when Repub­li­cans inad­ver­tent­ly let slip in print what they real­ly think of reg­u­lar folks, isn’t it?

In fair­ness to King, we don’t know if the typo orig­i­nat­ed from the copy he sent The Times or whether some­one at The Times acci­den­tal­ly made him look bad. If this typo appeared in the online ver­sion of King’s op-ed, it has since been removed. But it’s still there in the print edition.

King goes on to thought­less­ly attack Inslee’s sen­si­ble approach to penal­iz­ing pol­luters. We’ll have more to say on that tomor­row. What I real­ly want to get to in this post is the appar­ent zenith of King’s op-ed… the part where he attempts to lay out alter­na­tive ideas with­out actu­al­ly lay­ing out any alter­na­tive ideas:

The gov­er­nor has chal­lenged leg­isla­tive trans­porta­tion lead­ers to bring real solu­tions for­ward that would help meet our emis­sions limit.

So, gov­er­nor, here are real solu­tions. Each approach would pro­duce a direct and mea­sur­able reduc­tion in car­bon emis­sions with­out endan­ger­ing our economy:

  • Pur­sue com­mon-sense reforms in con­junc­tion with a bal­anced trans­porta­tion rev­enue package.
  • Cre­ate a tax incen­tive for employ­ers to con­vert com­mer­cial truck and car fleets to alter­na­tive fuels.
  • Cre­ate tar­gets for con­vert­ing the state fer­ry fleet to liq­uid nat­ur­al gas.
  • Find ways to pro­mote and diver­si­fy low-car­bon ener­gy sources such as nuclear and hydropower.

None of these bul­let points pack any punch. “Pur­sue com­mon-sense reforms in con­junc­tion with a bal­anced trans­porta­tion pack­age” … that’s a noth­ing­burg­er. There’s no such thing as com­mon sense (if there were, elect­ed offi­cials like King would­n’t talk inces­sant­ly about need­ing it). What reforms does he favor? What does he mean by bal­anced trans­porta­tion pack­age? He does­n’t say.

Num­ber two is “Cre­ate a tax incen­tive for employ­ers to con­vert com­mer­cial truck and car fleets to alter­na­tive fuels”. Tax cred­its, or incen­tives, have a mixed record. Some­times they work, but often­times they don’t end up chang­ing peo­ple’s behav­ior. In any case, the addi­tion of yet anoth­er tax cred­it would mean for­go­ing rev­enue for the state trea­sury, and we have bil­lions of dol­lars in oblig­a­tions to our­selves and our chil­dren that we’re not cur­rent­ly meeting.

Num­ber three is “Cre­ate tar­gets for con­vert­ing the state fer­ry fleet to liq­uid nat­ur­al gas.” What should those tar­gets be? Details, please!

Num­ber four is “Find ways to pro­mote and diver­si­fy low-car­bon ener­gy sources such as nuclear and hydropow­er.” Again, we ask: Where are the specifics? A sen­tence that begins with the words Find ways to is not a solu­tion to anything.

We’ve already got plen­ty of dams on our rivers, and we’ve already got one very expen­sive nuclear pow­er plant run­ning at the heav­i­ly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Han­ford Nuclear Reser­va­tion. King must know that nuclear pow­er plants pro­duce tox­ic waste and dams block migrat­ing fish. Does he real­ly think we should build more of either?

King con­cludes with this:

Regard­less of where you reside or your polit­i­cal lean­ings, it isn’t dif­fi­cult to see the need for new invest­ments in our state’s trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. We need a trans­porta­tion rev­enue pack­age and plan that incen­tivizes not penal­izes. We need more than con­ver­sa­tion starters. We need solu­tions that are fair and equi­table for the entire state.

King’s call to action is disin­gen­u­ous and hol­low. Any­one who has been involved in advo­cat­ing for a trans­porta­tion pack­age for our state over the past two years knows that King and his cau­cus were all talk and no action in 2013 and 2014.

The House at least pro­duced a plan and vot­ed on it; the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate did noth­ing. Sen­ate Repub­li­cans could­n’t even agree among them­selves on what to put for­ward for dis­cus­sion, let alone a vote.

Thanks in large part to their intran­si­gence, the effort to replace the I‑5 Colum­bia Riv­er Cross­ing col­lapsed, and Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon for­feit­ed hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment offered to put up to replace the aging bridge.

This op-ed is more of the same. In a way, it’s like a fil­i­buster. King and his cau­cus are stalling because they’ve got noth­ing. Notice that King uses the word solu­tions (or real solu­tions) in is col­umn four times, but the only idea he ever flesh­es out is the sug­gest­ed tax cred­it for employ­ers to con­vert their vehi­cles to alter­na­tive fuels. And it’s not much of an idea. The rest is either crit­i­cism of Inslee or mumbo-jumbo.

It looks like Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have every inten­tion of let­ting us down again in 2015. The most we’re like­ly to get out of them is more boil­er­plate like this.

They don’t seem to be inter­est­ed in work­ing con­struc­tive­ly to pro­duce a trans­porta­tion bud­get, so it’d be nice if they stopped wast­ing every­one’s time.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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