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House Transportation Chair not interested in messing with Sound Transit’s governance

A bill recently passed by the Washington State Senate that would oust Sound Transit’s current board of directors and set the stage for a hostile takeover of the agency by right wing, anti-rail forces is destined to die in committee, House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn indicated in an interview published this morning.

Speaking to the Seattle Times’ David Gutman, Clibborn (D-41st District: Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah Sammamish) made it clear she doesn’t like the bill. She had previously committed to giving it a hearing in remarks made to Melissa Santos of The News Tribune. But it sounds like that’s all the bill will get.

As Sound Transit embarks on a decades-long project to add 62 miles of light rail to the Puget Sound region, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill last week that would revamp the agency’s leadership, likely resulting in all current board members being replaced in 2018.

That proposal appears dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled House, where Rep. Judy Clibborn, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, the bill’s next destination, says she has no interest in it.

“I don’t know that we get a lot of efficiency by going down that road,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “I’m not real intrigued by that idea.”

It’s great to hear that SSB 5001 is unlikely to advance in the House of Representatives. But it’s still important we show up to speak out against this bad bill. Proponents dominated the hearing on the Senate side because they were organized and the transit community didn’t show up in opposition.

A hearing on SSB 5001 is likely to be scheduled for the week of March 13th.

Clibborn has (to her credit) shown a willingness in the past to put the kibosh on inappropriate schemes to mess with Sound Transit’s governance.

Ten years ago, this organization was fighting against a similarly bad bill – SB 5803 – which had sailed out of the Senate under the radar of transit advocates. NPI began working to organize opposition to the bill following the Senate vote. Thankfully, Clibborn and the House Transportation Committee put the brakes on the bill, and it unceremoniously died when they decided it did not deserve to move forward.

As a result of that decision, Sound Transit was able to continue rolling forward free of misguided interference. It successfully won approval for a Phase II expansion the following year and then won approval for a Phase III expansion last year (2016) utilizing new revenue authority granted to it by the Washington State Legislature — revenue authority that SSB 5001 prime sponsor Steve O’Ban voted for.

The Seattle Times’ David Gutman also reached out to the governor’s office regarding the bill and found out that Inslee opposes SSB 5001 too:

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, likewise, is not gung-ho on reorganizing Sound Transit. “He’s confident the current board structure can get the job done,” said Tara Lee, an Inslee spokeswoman.

So are we.

We concur with Clibborn that the Legislature has serious, actual priorities that need attending to. Empowering Sound Transit to more fairly collect vehicle fees is certainly worth a discussion. The current archaic formula that Sound Transit inherited from the state stinks, and it ought to be scrapped and replaced. There’s a better formula that’s actually already on the books, as Gutman pointed out.

Sound Transit needs to be able to build the system that it promised, and vehicle fees are an important part of the financing mix. Sound Transit has sold bonds that older  vehicle fee revenues are pledged to. The Legislature must not jeopardize Sound Transit’s funding or credit rating if it takes any action to address this issue.