NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Friday, March 4th, 2022

VICTORY! Bill to grant new revenue authority to Sound Transit gets out of state House

A North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute pri­or­i­ty bill that would give Sound Tran­sit the abil­i­ty to flex­i­bly raise addi­tion­al fund­ing to accel­er­ate tran­sit expan­sion projects in cen­tral Puget Sound was vot­ed out of the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives very ear­ly this morn­ing by the nar­row­est of mar­gins, 50–48.

Sen­ate Bill 5528, which now returns to the Sen­ate for con­cur­rence, is prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Jamie Ped­er­sen (D‑43rd Dis­trict: Seat­tle), and cham­pi­oned by Seat­tle Sub­way, The Urban­ist, the Sier­ra Club’s Cas­cade Chap­ter, Trans­porta­tion Choic­es Coali­tion, NPI, and many oth­er organizations.

The bill, which is also sup­port­ed by the City of Seat­tle and Sound Tran­sit, would allow ST to cre­ate what the bill dubs “enhanced ser­vice zones” con­sist­ing of a city or a city and adja­cent areas with­in its juris­dic­tion. The Sound Tran­sit Board, upon rec­om­men­da­tion of an advi­so­ry com­mit­tee, could form an enhanced ser­vice zone and ask vot­ers in that zone if they would like to autho­rize addi­tion­al rev­enue streams to fund tran­sit expan­sion projects such as Link light rail or Stride BRT.

Last sum­mer, an NPI sur­vey of Emer­ald City Vot­ers found that a huge major­i­ty of Seat­tle vot­ers are sup­port­ive of a tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to accel­er­ate Sound Tran­sit 3 projects, with over half strong­ly sup­port­ive. Seat­tle would be the most like­ly can­di­date for an enhanced ser­vice zone, but oth­er cities in ST’s juris­dic­tion (like Everett) could also lob­by Sound Tran­sit to form an ESZ if they wished.

Map: Status of ST3 projects by NPI and Seattle Subway

Our map show­ing the pro­posed delays to ST3 light expan­sion projects in Seat­tle, as of sum­mer 2021. Light rail expan­sion to Bal­lard and West Seat­tle could ben­e­fit from enhanced ser­vice zone revenue.

I pre­sent­ed this research find­ing to leg­is­la­tors dur­ing both of the pub­lic hear­ings on Sen­ate Bill 5528. No one spoke against the bill in either hearing.

How­ev­er, Repub­li­cans don’t like the bill — they have long been on an anti-tran­sit tear — and chose to almost uni­form­ly oppose it, first in the Sen­ate and then again ear­ly this morn­ing in the House. Only Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Brad Hawkins had the good sense to vote yea. Sev­en front­line Demo­c­ra­t­ic House mem­bers also vot­ed against the bill, leav­ing just a bare major­i­ty of the House in favor.

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
SB 5528
RTA addi­tive revenue
Final Pas­sage as Amend­ed by the House

Yeas: 50; Nays: 48

Vot­ing Yea: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Bate­man, Bergquist, Berry, Callan, Chap­man, Chopp, Cody, Davis, Dolan, Duerr, Enten­man, Fey, Fitzgib­bon, Frame, Good­man, Gregerson, Hack­ney, Hansen, Har­ris-Tal­ley, John­son, J., Kir­by, Klo­ba, Lekanoff, Macri, Mor­gan, Orms­by, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Peter­son, Pol­let, Ramel, Ramos, Ric­cel­li, Ryu, San­tos, Sells, Senn, Sim­mons, Slat­ter, Springer, Stonier, Sul­li­van, Tay­lor, Thai, Tharinger, Valdez, Walen, Wicks, Wylie, Jinkins

Vot­ing Nay: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Abbarno, Barkis, Berg, Boehnke, Bronoske, Caldier, Cham­bers, Chan­dler, Chase, Cor­ry, Dent, Don­aghy, Dufault, Dye, Eslick, Gil­day, Goehn­er, Gra­ham, Grif­fey, Har­ris, Hoff, Jacob­sen, Klick­er, Klip­pert, Kraft, Kretz, Leav­itt, MacEwen, May­cum­ber, McCaslin, McEn­tire, Mos­bruck­er, Orcutt, Paul, Robert­son, Rude, Rule, Schmick, Shew­make, Steele, Stokes­bary, Suther­land, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybar­ra, Young

Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers vot­ing nay on SB 5528 were April Berg and Bran­di Don­aghy of the 44th Dis­trict (Sno­homish Coun­ty), Dave Paul of the 10th Dis­trict (part of which is in Sno­homish Coun­ty), Mari Leav­itt and Dan Bronoske of the 28th Dis­trict (Pierce Coun­ty), and Ali­cia Rule and Sharon Shew­make of the 42nd Dis­trict (which is locat­ed in What­com Coun­ty, a coun­ty out­side of ST’s jurisdiction).

The rest of the cau­cus vot­ed yea, includ­ing the entire Seat­tle del­e­ga­tion, the entire South King Coun­ty del­e­ga­tion, and the entire East­side of King Coun­ty del­e­ga­tion. Pri­or to the final vote, the House approved one amend­ment, offered by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Debra Enten­man (D‑47th Dis­trict: South King Coun­ty), which explic­it­ly “pro­hibits sys­tem improve­ments financed by enhanced ser­vice zones from delay­ing the esti­mat­ed com­ple­tion date of high-capac­i­ty trans­porta­tion sys­tem improve­ments con­tained in an exist­ing vot­er-approved region­al tran­sit plan by more than six months,” as sum­ma­rized by non­par­ti­san staff.

In oth­er words, Sound Tran­sit may not pri­or­i­tize projects with enhanced ser­vice zone rev­enue at the expense of oth­er projects. Tran­sit advo­cates have infor­mal­ly dubbed this the “fin­ish the spine” amend­ment. It was­n’t in the ver­sion that passed the Sen­ate, so the Sen­ate will need to sign off on the bill. Assum­ing that hap­pens before March 10th, the bill will go to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to be signed into law, and Sound Tran­sit can start con­tem­plat­ing next steps.

Here is how the process will work, as detailed by the non­par­ti­san staff report:

Before an ESZ may be estab­lished, it must first be rec­om­mend­ed to the RTA board by an advi­so­ry com­mit­tee com­posed of board mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing the sub­area in which the pro­posed ESZ is locat­ed. The advi­so­ry com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions must include pro­posed sys­tem improve­ments ben­e­fit­ing the ESZ, to be financed by res­i­dents of the ESZ but con­struct­ed and oper­at­ed by the RTA.

If the board estab­lish­es the rec­om­mend­ed ESZ, then the board must sub­mit a bal­lot propo­si­tion to vot­ers with­in the ESZ at a gen­er­al or spe­cial elec­tion for approval of the pro­posed sys­tem improve­ments and fund­ing sources. The fund­ing sources may not be imposed with­out approval of a sim­ple major­i­ty of the vot­ers in the ESZ vot­ing on the propo­si­tion. The propo­si­tion must include a spe­cif­ic descrip­tion of the pro­posed sys­tem improve­ment or improve­ments, includ­ing speed, reli­a­bil­i­ty, and safe­ty enhance­ments to the improve­ments, and the fund­ing sources to be imposed with­in the ESZ to raise rev­enue to fund the improve­ment or improvements.

Design and con­struc­tion of the sys­tem improve­ments approved by the vot­ers of an enhanced ser­vice zone shall not mate­ri­al­ly and unrea­son­ably delay the esti­mat­ed com­ple­tion date of high capac­i­ty trans­porta­tion sys­tem improve­ments con­tained in an exist­ing vot­er-approved region­al tran­sit plan.

So, using Seat­tle as an exam­ple, the Sound Tran­sit Board would form an Emer­ald City advi­so­ry com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of board­mem­bers from the North King sub­area, which is one of Sound Tran­sit’s five sub­ar­eas. (The oth­ers are East King, South King, Sno­homish, and Pierce.) If that advi­so­ry com­mit­tee rec­om­mend­ed for­ma­tion of an enhanced ser­vice zone, then Sound Tran­sit would have to present a pro­pos­al to the vot­ers in that zone via bal­lot propo­si­tion of projects to be fund­ed by either a motor vehi­cle excise tax (MVET) or com­mer­cial park­ing tax.

SB 5228 allows ESZ pro­pos­als to autho­rize the fol­low­ing types of improve­ments:

  • enhance­ments to one or more high capac­i­ty trans­porta­tion sys­tems [i.e. Link light rail] con­tained in an exist­ing vot­er-approved region­al tran­sit plan, includ­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions to an exist­ing sys­tem’s facil­i­ties that improve per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics such as speed, reli­a­bil­i­ty, poten­tial for future expan­sion, and safe­ty or the com­ple­tion date of the sys­tem but do not change the mode or route align­ment of the sys­tem pre­vi­ous­ly approved by vot­ers, and improve­ments to ser­vice, such as reduc­ing head­way times or adding inter­im bus service;
  • new rail improve­ments on align­ments that are not con­tained in an exist­ing vot­er-approved region­al tran­sit plan and con­nect to the high capac­i­ty trans­porta­tion system;
  • high capac­i­ty trans­porta­tion sys­tem plan­ning for future sys­tem expan­sion with­in the enhanced ser­vice zone; or
  • a com­bi­na­tion of these improvements.

Our team at NPI con­sid­ers this a thought­ful, ele­gant, and flex­i­ble solu­tion for rais­ing addi­tion­al rev­enue for tran­sit expan­sion, and we’re excit­ed to see it close to the fin­ish line in the leg­isla­tive process. We thank law­mak­ers for pri­or­i­tiz­ing this bill in the hours lead­ing up today’s final leg­isla­tive cut­off. This bill will help address a big need and respond to vot­er hunger for faster tran­sit expansion.

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