Just in the past two days, the political tides have shifted toward putting Sound Transit 2 on the ballot this November, instead of in 2010. Credit goes to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, current president of the Sound Transit board, for some aggressive courting of Snohomish County. Some think Nickels may have made too many concessions in his eagerness to get the package, so the new majority might crumble before the crucial board vote next Thursday, July 24.
King County Council member Dow Constantine, a Sound Transit board member and staunch supporter of a 2008 vote, said on Tuesday, July 15, that he thought the chances of getting to the ballot this fall were 50-50. The next day, he was "pretty convinced there will be 14 to 16 yes votes," with 12 being the supermajority needed on the 18-person Sound Transit board. Some other nose-counters aren't that optimistic. With Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon reportedly winning a tough poker game with Nickels and swinging into the yes column, the key votes are now with Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg and King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer.
For months, there have been only about 10 firm votes for the 2008 ballot date. At first, Sound Transit was going to go with a big package of 50 miles of additional rail transit, finishing the job, but the time to complete it and cost of that proposal sank the idea. Then there was a $10 billion to $12 billion proposal, Sound Transit Lite, with fewer years of collecting taxes but not much rail reaching close to Pierce or Snohomish counties. Snohomish firmly rejected this version. Lately has come the goldilocks just-right compromise of $15 billion and 15 years [164K PDF]. The package would extend light rail north to Lynnwood, south to Federal Way, and east across Lake Washington to Bellevue/Overlake, as well as augment express bus service and Sounder commuter rail.
Now the moment of truth is approaching — first a Sound Transit finance committee meeting today, where the cost of Nickels' concessions will become an issue, and then the July 24 vote by the Sound Transit board. Reardon would probably bring along another swing vote, Deanna Dawson of the Edmonds City Council. That leaves probably three firm no votes in King County Executive Ron Sims, Everett City Council member Paul Roberts, and state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond (reflecting Gov. Chris Gregoire's veiled opposition). Von Reichbauer says he's "still willing to listen" but has been in the no column. Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg says, "If we get to 15 or 16, we should put it on the ballot and I would be one of the votes for it." If von Reichbauer is the fourth no vote, Ladenburg would be the 14th. Hmmm.
Complicating the Ladenburg situation is his race for state attorney general, in which incumbent Rob McKenna, long a rail skeptic, is expected to wrap a yes vote by Ladenburg around his neck. Gregoire expects the same from gubernatorial challenger Dino Rossi, which is why she is said to be determined to block the vote in 2008. Nickels, still estranged from the governor over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is paying her no heed on this score.
Both Rossi and Gregoire are