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.
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:
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.
- 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.