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Irresponsible Republicans escalate their legislative attacks on Sound Transit and ST3

As Tim Eyman’s initiative factory sits idle due to his constant lies and deceptions having finally caught up with him, Republicans in the Washington State Legislature have decided to take up one of Eyman’s favorite causes themselves: destroying Sound Transit, the regional agency tasked with building the rail spine our region needs to liberate more commuters from increasingly clogged highways.

Eyman has wanted Sound Transit pulverized for a very, very long time, but his repeated attempts to sabotage ST’s funding have ended in failure. Sound Transit has successfully built thirty-five kilometers of light rail linking together sixteen stations. Thirteen of those opened in 2009 and three more opened last year. Dozens more stations and miles of track are either under construction or in the planning stages.

Last year, as Sound Transit was getting ready to go to the ballot with ST3, Eyman was desperately trying to get his wealthy benefactors and the Republican Party interested in giving him megabucks to qualify a new statewide initiative to dismantle and defund Sound Transit. (It also would have targeted Amtrak Cascades.)

The thing that is deliciously fun about this year’s [Initiative 1421] is that guts like a pig Sound Transit. That’s what really makes it fun,” Eyman told a gathering of the Eastside Republican Club on March 1st, 2016.

Eyman reiterated that sentiment later in his presentation: “What gets me giddy is the idea of ripping the heart out of Sound Transit. This agency is so unaccountable, so rogue, so completely devoid of any reality that this is our one chance to be able to gut them like a pig, and that’s what I really love about this initiative.”

Eyman argued that funding I-1421 was the best way to put a stop to Sound Transit 3, predicting (correctly) that a conventional “no” campaign would fail.

But having double-crossed and duped so many people for so long, Eyman was unable to win commitments to get I-1421 funded. Eyman gave up on I-1421 several weeks later and started over with I-869, an initiative to the 2017 Legislature with largely the same text. But that initiative met the same fate as I-1421. Meanwhile, Sound Transit 3 appeared on the ballot and passed handily.

In the wake of the election, Republicans in the Washington State Legislature became deeply interested in Eyman’s cause. Steve O’Ban (R-28th District: Lakewood, University Place, Tacoma) was first out of the gate with a bill to sabotage Sound Transit. O’Ban was able to get his bill through the Washington State Senate last month, but it has been languishing in the House of Representatives ever since, with House Democrats refusing to lift a finger to help O’Ban wage war on Sound Transit.

House Republicans are furious that their Democratic counterparts won’t give O’Ban’s malicious bill a hearing, or take punitive action against Sound Transit. So they have been doing some plotting of their own, as Melissa Santos reports:

Republicans will try to push through several measures to address concerns about Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion transit package voters approved in November, in a battle on the floor of the state House Wednesday.

GOP lawmakers, who are in the minority in the House, say they’re frustrated Democratic leaders haven’t advanced proposals to reduce the cost of car tab fees associated with Sound Transit 3, as well as to let jurisdictions opt out of the Sound Transit taxing district.

Republicans will try to to amend the state’s transportation budget to address those issues Wednesday, said state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, the House minority floor leader.

If those amendments are rejected or can’t move forward, GOP lawmakers will most likely attempt a procedural move to bring several Sound Transit-related bills directly to the floor for a vote, Wilcox said.

It doesn’t look like the transportation budget will be coming to the floor today, but it’s still shameful that Republicans are wasting so much time and energy trying to reverse the will of the voters, which they have historically professed to care about.

We have long memories here at NPI, and we well remember all those floor speeches given by Republican legislators declaring Tim Eyman initiatives sacrosanct.

They’ve gone ballistic every time progressives have filed legal challenges against Eyman’s schemes to uphold our Constitution. Every other sentence out of their mouths included the words the will of the voters.

Well, the voters decreed last fall that Sound Transit should be authorized to extend light rail north, south, east, and west — to Tacoma, Everett, downtown Redmond, Ballard, and West Seattle — not to mention expand Sounder and ST Express and add two bus rapid transit lines. That was their will.

Legislative Republicans didn’t like the outcome of that vote then and they don’t like it now — even though they’re the ones who made it all possible.

Legislative approval of the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, passed with a bipartisan vote of the House and the Senate, is what gave Sound Transit the authority to levy motor vehicle excise taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes that fund ST3 projects. Most Senate Republicans voted aye on this legislation — including Steve O’Ban — and so did many House Republicans.

Sound Transit itself is a creation of the Legislature as well. Back in the 1990s, the House and the Senate gave ST life by voting to authorize the formation of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in the state’s three largest counties.

Sound Transit was given a jurisdiction spanning neighborhoods within the urban growth boundary, as the agency’s mission was to develop high capacity transit within the state’s dense urban and suburban core.

Sound Transit is doing important, effective work. After a rough beginning, ST is now one of the best-managed public agencies anywhere. It had a banner year last year, opening three light rail stations ahead of schedule and under budget.

But that doesn’t matter to Republican road warriors like Steve O’Ban and Dino Rossi. They are so enamored with widening and expanding highways that they are willing to raise taxes for that purpose. They will not support raising revenue to amply fund our schools as the Constitution requires, but they will cast a vote to wastefully give WSDOT the money to make highways like I-5 and I-405 bigger.

I say “wastefully” because widening highways actually makes traffic congestion worse due to the phenomenon of induced demand. Induced demand can be explained with the following aphorism: Trying to reduce congestion by adding lanes is like trying to lose weight by loosening your belt. It’s ineffective.

The experience of cities and states all over the country (and abroad, as well) is that adding lanes encourages people to drive more and take more trips. The net effect is that traffic eventually becomes even worse than it was before.

Adding lanes doesn’t help, but adding transit service does. Why? Because a robust transit network that serves more communities gives people alternatives to driving. Rail transit in particular offers a way to move through a congested corridor without a car. It appeals strongly to commuters because it is reliable and frequent.

When University Link opened a year ago, it didn’t just benefit people living and working in Capitol Hill or the University of Washington’s campus. Metro and Sound Transit sensibly worked together to reconfigure bus service to create lots of bus+rail connections so that people living and working further away could benefit, too.

One of these connecting routes is the 542 Express, a Sound Transit bus with an eastern terminus a block away from NPI’s Redmond headquarters.

Using the 542, I can connect to Link light rail for a trip downtown, and completely bypass the awful traffic on both Interstate 5 and Stewart Street, which I’d otherwise have to endure if I were riding the 545, Sound Transit’s main Redmond-Seattle route. The 545 rocks and has attracted high ridership for years, but it has an Achilles heel: it is a surface-only route that is susceptible to traffic delays.

When I-5 and Stewart Street are moving freely, the 545 is reliable and quick, but at rush hour or during a protest downtown, the 545 is often delayed.

Having another option (Link + 542) is a great blessing.

Every time we bring light rail to another neighborhood, it opens up possibilities for people. We saw that last year with University Link and Angle Lake Link. Light rail means greater freedom and greater mobility for our people. When ST3 is completed, the region will have a rail spine that is truly regional in scope.

Blinded by ideology and greed, legislative Republicans cannot see the value of investing in transit for all — or in our schools, for that matter. They would rather plot endlessly to take away a transit investment the voters already approved instead of working with Democrats in good faith to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders regarding the state’s compliance with Article IX, Section 1 of our Constitution.

It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

— Article IX, Section 1, Washington State Constitution

The Washington State Constitution was written by a group of men who were mostly Republican. They thought public education was so important that they gave us the preamble above. Today’s Republicans are willing to pay lip service to that ideal, but not money. Every time Democrats propose a way to increase funding to public schools without jeopardizing other vital services, Republicans say NO.

The end of the 2017 regular session is fast approaching (adjournment will happen on April 23rd), and we still do not have an operating budget for 2017-2019, or a plan to bolster school funding that satisfies the Supreme Court’s orders.

It seems we’re destined for multiple special sessions, because legislative Republicans are just not interested in doing the jobs they were elected to do. They’d rather scheme against Sound Transit than do right by our teachers and schoolchildren.

One Comment

  1. Gretchen Sand
    Posted April 5th, 2017 at 6:04 PM | Permalink