Link light rail in Mount Baker Station
A Central Link light rail train pulls into the Mount Baker Station (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

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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