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.