NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

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.

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