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Olympia fail: No appetite for transportation compromise

The governor and legislative leaders say they will try again next year, but resisting compromise is getting to be a habit.
Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way?

Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way? Photo: Oran Viriyincy

Olympia is punting on a legislative transportation package until at least 2014. The breakdown, announced Wednesday afternoon, continues a familiar and dysfunctional pattern: legislative Republicans and Democrats resisting compromise on most major issues. 

The closed-door talks on transportation have already dragged on for eight to 11 months, depending on when you start the clock on the negotiations.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee, along with Republican and Democratic negotiators released a joint statement saying: "... it has become clear this phase of the process has run its course and we have not reached an agreement." Talks will resume when the Legislature meets for a 60-day "short" session, which starts on Jan. 13, according to the joint release.

The 2013-2015 operating budget talks lasted through 57 days of special sessions, resolved only when the looming threat of a partial government shutdown was less than three days away. Workers compensation reforms, allowing undocumented high school graduates to get financial aid for college, and expanding abortion insurance coverage all died at the hands of partisan deadlock. And, despite six months of discussions and a Dec. 31 deadline to come up with a joint plan, Republicans and Democrats are extremely far apart on how to deal with the carbon emissions that affect global warming and threaten the state's shellfish industry.

On the transportation impasse, both Republican and Democratic proposals include similarly long lists of construction and fix-it projects, which have received overwhelming public support. The Democratic proposal is heavier on mass transit appropriations. Both proposals would give King and Snohomish counties the legal ability to levy their own fees as a way to raise revenue. Snohomish and King county governments, with a good deal of public support, have been fighting for new, permanent levy authority for almost a year. Without new revenue, King County faces a projected 17 percent cut in its Metro transit service in 2014.

So that levy authority — and one potential solution to King County Metro's budgetary fate — remain in limbo until 2014.

The Democrats had a $10.5 billion transportation proposal, financed in part by a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike, which the House passed in May. The current state gas tax is 37.5 cents a gallon. House Republicans and the 23-Republican-two-Democrat Senate majority coalition originally took a no-tax-hike stance. The majority coalition's current proposal of $11.5 billion with a gas tax hike of 11.5 cents a gallon is still technically an informal one, because it has never been mapped out in a proposed bill.

The other major disputes will, most likely, involve budget-shifting issues. The majority coalition wants to get rid of the sales-and-use tax on transportation construction materials, which would reduce money to the state's general fund. The majority coalition also wants to shift the funding of stormwater runoff projects from gas-tax revenue to a state Ecology Department-related hazardous substances tax. Democrats have opposed both proposals because they would ultimately shift money from other programs — most likely social-services. 

The delay in resolving transportation package disputes now raises the possibility of the details in this impasse becoming political bargaining chips in other issues in the 2014 session.

One possible overlapping battle is Inslee's likely push to enforce the 2008 state law that set a goal for reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — with further trimming to 25 percent below the 1990 level by 2035, and 50 percent below by 2050. So far, nothing has happened in that arena. Early this year, the Legislature passed a bill that gave this task force a Dec. 31 deadline for making recommendations.

Inslee wants to put a cap on Washington's carbon emissions and install a cap-and-trade program for the state's industries. The state's business interests strongly oppose that concept. And Republicans want to change the emission-reduction targets that the state adopted in 2008.

Look for carbon emissions and transportation legislation to become intertwined in this Legislature, where Democrats and Republicans have made a habit of holding hostages — and engaging in extensive brinkmanship.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.

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Posted Thu, Dec 19, 4:54 a.m. Inappropriate

An election year and no stomach for being associated with wasteful transit spending, tolling and sky rocketing tab fees.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

A gas tax hike that does nothing to solve transportation problems, short term or long term. Just another mindless tax that ends up hurting the middle class.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

And remember, Seattle has two projects that consume $4.8 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, the SR 520 and SR 99 tunnel project, that add not an ounce of vehicular capacity given where they start and end (but, even worse, they remove capacity) but oh they are so beautiful to look at with their parks, kayak launching areas, urban trails, rest/view areas [known as belvederes to the architects] and a hoped for downtown Seattle waterfront full of promenades and Puget Sound viewing sites (but no parking and no transit) funded by taxes from the rest of the state who gain not even a penny of benefit. Yet no one has raised even one objection since it is clearly other peoples money. Never are so many to be taxed for the benefit of so few. And all of this is while only the Senate Transportation Committee dares to raise an objection. Where is the outrage?


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow. Your indignation is palpable. Clearly you simmer with rage at these "injustices".

Maybe I can clear up a couple of things for you, and reduce your feelings of outrage.

Seattle has two projects that consume $4.8 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, the SR 520 and SR 99 tunnel project

Neither of those is a Seattle project. Each is a WSDOT project.

[Those projects are] funded by taxes from the rest of the state

Nope. The former is to be funded primarily by state bond sales revenues and tolling of vehicles crossing Lake Washington. The latter is to be financed primarily by state bond sales revenues and tolling of vehicles using the new tunnel.

Neither of those projects is financed by a single nickel of new taxes, of any type.

Feel better yet?

Let's see if you are just as ignorant with respect to how Sound Transit finances its projects. You know about those projects, right? They exist primarily to benefit a handful of urban property speculators, the financiers, BNSF, and a couple dozen engineering, manufacturing and infrastructure construction firms. Go ahead and describe that financing plan. In particular, try quantifying the amount of new, regressive taxing the unaccountable boardmembers controlling the oligarchy intend to impose merely as security for the (approx.) $11 billion of long term bonds staff suggests they may want to issue. Good luck!


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Say what? "Neither of those projects (SR 520 and the SR 99 DBT) is a Seattle project. Each is a WSDOT project." Indeed they are, and the mega prices they have now reached are for the accouterments attached to them, all at the behest of Seattle and no one else. Do you really think legislators from the east care about Seattle's waterfront or a new park over the Montlake interchange. Sorry. You have not a clue why they cost so much. And that is the issue no one is willing to address.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

outrage troll


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 1:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Ah, yes andy, anyone who doesn't spout your "progressive" horseshit is a "troll."


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

As I said when I was the first journalist in the state to dare call the Republican takeover in Olympia the coup that it is, the effect "is to turn Washington into a de facto 'red state'...What this means in the realm of public transport is characteristic 'red state' contempt for transit users and fanatical opposition to mass transit will, by default, become official state policy." (see http://crosscut.com/2012/12/13/transportation/111952/king-county-gets-rail-business/?page=single; also http://crosscut.com/2013/01/02/olympia-2013/112259/state-senate-bombshell-democratic-kevin-ranker/)

Posted Thu, Dec 19, 11:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Not a coup. Not at all.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 1:52 a.m. Inappropriate

A "coup?" Hey, maybe you didn't notice that the Republicans gained a seat in the Senate? And, given the Democrats' ongoing urge to jack up taxes, I think that's a trend that will continue.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

The big winner in all this of course is the state democratic party. Now its main operatives around here -- Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips -- can do what they've made their careers doing: pimping more sales tax and car tab tax hikes for transit. They now have the green light to use the 2007 "TBD" statute to push for regressive tax hikes in the name of buses.

We have the "worst in the country" state/local taxing structure. The democrats who have effectively controlled what happens with taxing policies in this state for a generation can not hike taxes fast enough that targeting individuals and families (as opposed to taxes that target the wealthy and corporations):


That chart makes the democrat leadership tingle with delight. It's disgusting.

The only democrats that flourish in Washington State are those that loathe the notion of progressive taxing. Look at Ed Murray's record in the state legislature – all he did was push for legislation making the tax impacts on the less-well-off worse, and he never advocated for progressive taxing strategies.

Elsewhere in the country democrats are liberal. They try to level the playing field and work for social justice. That's essentially what “liberal” means. Here though the democrats want to increase the wealth gap between the rich and the poor by using nasty taxation policies, especially when it comes to transit.

The democratic party leaders and their functionaries now in power always push for higher sales taxes and car tab taxes for local transit taxing districts, and then work hard to impose them. Those are the singular accomplishments of Frank Chopp, Ed Murray, Greg Nickels, Dow Constantine, Larry Phillips, etc. McGinn followed suit. Constantine and Phillips now are pushing for higher sales taxes and car tab taxes for Metro, instead of questioning the management of Metro, explaining why additional tax revenue might be needed, or advocating for a revenue-raiser not designed to hit the families with the least the hardest.

Look at how “tax the people with the least the heaviest” is the unvarying theme of the democrats. King County Metro’s high taxing targeting the middle class and poor dates from its first sales tax in 1972. Then Metro doubled its sales tax in 1980. Then the democrats around here really started going to town. They controlled King County and hiked its sales taxes again for Metro in 2000, and then again in 2006. In 2011 the democrats began collecting an additional car tab tax. That completely unaccountable municipality Sound Transit was designed and operated by democrats. It got a big sales tax and car tab tax from the democrats in the state legislature in 1992, and the local democrats began imposing those with gusto. Another unaccountable local taxing district (the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority) was created and authorized to impose heavy car tab taxes. It did that for over three years, and completely wasted all that tax revenue. Now the people here are taxed heavily for transit -- a 1.8% sales taxt, plus car tab taxes, plus a property tax.

That's far more regressive taxing, and higher overall taxing, compared with everywhere else in the country.

People everywhere else with light rail pay little or no new regressive taxes for it.

Seattle used to impose a modest payroll tax a few years back, and then the city council repealed that progressive tax. What did it replace it with? You guessed it, a TBD car tab fee the democrats in the state legislature just had handed it.

What do Dow and Larry want? Higher car tab taxes and sales taxes for Metro. What does their party's leadership want after that? More regressive taxing authority from the democrats in the legislature for Sound Transit. Then upcoming-mayor Murray will push for “city-only” regressive taxes on top of that for more light rail.

What don't the democrats ever implement? Policies involving paying for transit the fair way, the way the peers do: not much new local taxing, and progressive taxing only to the extent needed.

The WA democrat party oath:

“I am a democrat, of the 'Tax the Poor' party.

“I always will strive for more sales taxes and car tab taxes, as those taxes target most heavily minorities, young households of modest means, the underemployed, and the disabled. My party in Washington won the race to the bottom of the states on that score ( http://www.itep.org/whopays/ ). Now we must put space between us and the rest of the states.”


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

crossrip, are you proposing a more socialist approach ala Sawant? A millionaires tax?


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

No, I'm describing how the democrats here adopt patently unfair taxing strategies as a matter of course. They tax as a sociopath would, targeting the most economically-vulnerable cohorts in our community. It is abnormal on several levels, most notably with respect to best practices used to finance transit everywhere else.

My proposals involve structural changes that would disrupt the extant local transit taxing district model. An overhaul of the approach to taxing around here -- in order to bring it more in line with progressive values and American norms -- also is warranted. In contrast, Dow and Larry want to expand their fiefdoms by hiking regressive taxes and making our bad situation worse.

As to your question, I'd first offer this maxim in response: "To label is to limit." My proposals for moving forward are at odds with those of the democrats around here. As you can see from the above, they aren't "socialist" though. If anything I'd label them "American-mainstream", as opposed to the extremist and illiberal policies the state democrats here enact.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I generally agree with your points, but I do really like transit and even Sound Transit light rail. It is not perfect but it does work ok. How should it be financed?


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Light rail here should be financed the way peer regions do it: little or no new regressive taxing, no new g.o. muni bonds, revenue bonds secured by fares (to the extent needed), progressive tax revenue sources, reallocation of parts of extant county/city/state tax streams, mostly federal New Starts grants, state grants, and LID assessments.

Ever studied how light rail is paid for outside this state? Start with how it's done in New York (the state legislators in Albany set the taxing and fare policies for the MTA, and they do a good job of it), the Twin Cities and the greater Portland area. UNlike here, all of them employ reasonable, effective financing plans.

This seems like a new topic for you . . .. Now it's your turn: estimate the tax cost of securing the ST2 bonds. Good luck!


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Dude, I was agreeing with you. The sales tax scheme is regressive.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 1:54 a.m. Inappropriate

crossrip, we are not going to have an income tax in this state


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 6:35 a.m. Inappropriate

I was agreeing with you. The sales tax scheme is regressive.

So address the issue I presented to you, "andy". Estimate the tax cost of securing the ST2 bonds the democrats controlling Sound Transit's board intend to impose.

You posted that you like light rail here. Let's see if you have a clue about the extent of the tax costs. I'm confident you are ignorant about those, and that is why you like Sound Transit's undertaking.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

I like Light Rail, not the way it is financed. Man you are a bit strange sometimes. I am not going to run a bunch of mathes just to prove I agree with you.


Posted Sat, Dec 21, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Why can't you just base an estimate on documents from Sound Transit or reports about it from third parties, "andy"?

Try to wrap your head around this concept: you know you'd have to "run maths" to estimate the tax cost. That means this unaccountable municipality is keeping FAR too much secret relative to its financing plans and practices. That's because the political appointees controlling its board don't want the public know how its shafting individuals and families here with grossly excessive sales tax confiscations.

See what kind of estimate of the tax costs of the ST2 financing plan you can come up with without "doing maths". We'll discuss it.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 6:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip, I owe you an apology. I didn't realize -- until I read your post above -- the extent to which the Washington State Democratic Party defines itself, by its taxation policies, as a false-flag organization that beneath its disguises is no different from the Republican Party in terms of its hatred and contempt for the 99 Percent.

Moreover, until I read "The big winner..," I had unfairly dismissed you as yet another of those people -- a big majority in the Puget Sound area and probably in the entire state as well -- for whom opposition to mass transit is a euphemism for xenophobic hatred of urbanites, non-white minorities and lower-income people...never mind many of the hate-mongers are themselves lower-income.

Now though I recognize your opposition is not to mass transit per se, but to mass transit as it is being inflicted on us by a false-flag Democratic Party. The real issue is a state Democratic Party that is no less an instrument of the capitalist aristocracy than its Republican counterpart. Obviously, here in this Washington as in the other, the Democrats are merely the less-avowedly fascist half of the One Party of Two Names.

The following, as an adden-dumb to my apology, is not an excuse but an explanation:

The atrocity of the tax structure was not obvious to me during the initial years I covered the Legislature, 1977-1981, because my primary focus was the local (Federal Way) impact of the (even now unresolved) fight over the definition of "basic education." Nor was it obvious when I was again covering the Legislature in 2005-2008, when my focus was exclusively on geriatric issues.

While I (of course) realize taxes are at the center of all political issues, I have no talent whatsoever at transforming mathematical statements into declarative sentences – I am a dyslexic (albeit what is known as a "compensated dyslexic") – and my mathematical skills test nearly as low as my verbal abilities test high.

Hence I was always dependent on others to translate tax numbers into meaningful words. Back East, where the political issues were mostly about policy and seldom about revenue per se, this was never problematical. I had no end of reliable sources – so much so I was able to translate the results of a New Jersey school-revenue crisis into a series of stories that were included in the evidence that prompted the state Supreme Court to overturn local property tax levies as sole sources of public-school support. But here – or so I am now coming to realize – none of my official sources, whether Democrat or Republican, were reliable.

Indeed I should have immediately recognized their refusal to discuss the savage regressiveness of the state tax structure, which I first heard of in 1977 or 1978, was irrefutable proof of their unreliability.

Again my apology, crossrip, and again my thanks for the above.

Nevertheless I continue to believe some transit is better than none. Meanwhile, recognizing how the state's all-powerful cabal of obscenely wealthy aristocrats has hopelessly corrupted the Democratic and Republican parties, I regard the Third Party aborning in the person of Councilwoman Sawant as our only rational hope for genuine change.

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 1:56 a.m. Inappropriate

loren, one communist on the city council isn't going to get a state income tax passed.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

"include similarly long lists of construction and fix-it projects, which have received overwhelming public support. "

Slow down Mr. Bongo!

There is no overwhelming support for the highway mega projects. If you deal in actual facts instead of making stuff up you will find that the public wants drastically higher funding for transit, maintainence, and ped/ safety and drastically lower funding for new highway construction.

Look at this chart based on actual facts:


It would be much better if crosscut authors base their articles on the facts and not their political objectives.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

"If you deal in actual facts instead of making stuff up you will find that the public wants drastically higher funding for transit, maintainence, and ped/ safety and drastically lower funding for new highway construction."

If you deal in actual facts instead of making stuff up, you will find that the public does NOT want higher gas taxes or higher sales taxes or higher car tabs.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

It is replies like this that make me fear for the future of humanity.

Nobody wants higher taxes.

My post was about what the public wants for their hard earned money and it is not more mega freeway projects.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

And you get this via Sightline? Cute.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 1:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey andy, we sure as hell don't want any bike lanes or transit either. Tell your buddies at Sightline that we don't want their "progressive" crap, okay? Thank you.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

"The public" does not want to have taxes raised to pay for anything.

It is people who ignore this who make me fear for the future of humanity.

It is people who think they "know better than the public", like Mike McGinn, Dow Constantine and Jay Inslee, who really make me fear for the future of humanity.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

You dudes realize that sightline just made the chart, right? The original data is from the Washington State Transporation Commision survey.

Also, the most common "argument" from the less intelligent amung us is the ad hominem. If you can't attack the data or facts, attack the person. bingo you three passed that test.


Posted Mon, Dec 23, 11:45 p.m. Inappropriate

"Hard Hitting Transportation News of the Great Nearby"...yeah right.

Leaky pontoons for the 520 bridge still backing up in the inspection pens and Bertha has apparently disappeared under the waterfront.

What are we hearing from local media including Crosscut?



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