Dems Gain Control of Washington Legislature and Immediately Move to Pilfer Transit Funds

Photo: The Urbanist
Photo: The Urbanist

In the Washington state legislature, Democrats have gained control of both houses for the first time in six years. And one of the first things on their agenda is weakening Seattle’s voter-approved transit expansion plans.

Robert Cruickshank at The Urbanist reports that the issue is the car tab — a registration fee that varies according to a vehicle’s value. An increase in the car tab is one source of revenue that will fund the region’s $53 billion transit expansion plan. Despite the 2016 ballot measure where voters approved the fee, some Democrats want to restructure it after a round of negative media coverage, even if it deals a $2 billion blow to Seattle’s transit plans.

Seattle can’t afford to squander transit funds in a bout of preemptive surrender by Democrats, Cruickshank says, and given the current political landscape, they need to grow stronger spines:

This week’s Elway Poll confirms the dominant electoral position of Democrats going into the November 2018 election. Democrats hold a lead of 12 points on the generic legislative ballot. That lead grows to 16 points among likely voters. National polling, combined with results from states like Virginia and Alabama, shows massive swings to Democrats at all levels of power.

Democrats in the state legislature face no serious threat of losing seats or their majority. They are much more likely to pick up seats in November. Democrats from seats within the Sound Transit district are even safer. Hillary Clinton carried legislative districts by huge margins–winning the 30th by 20 points. Given the electoral trends and the polls, Democrats in these districts have no reason to fear an electoral backlash–especially when one failed to materialize after no action was taken on the MVET in 2017.

Democrats in Olympia are convinced they are just a few steps ahead of an angry pack of anti-tax wolves ready to destroy their majority. There is no evidence in 2018 that this fear is justified.

But there are very real threats to Sound Transit that have nothing to do with the [Motor Vehicle Excise Tax]. Last year the Trump Administration delayed its delivery of a crucial $1 billion federal grant for the Lynnwood Link project and will make a final decision this year. Sound Transit continues to be worried about these federal grants, and for good reason. Just last week, the Trump Administration showed it is willing to defund and destroy rail projects when it declared the Gateway project under the Hudson River to be “dead.”

Cruickshank wants to see state Democrats show some real leadership and secure more resources for transit instead of ceding hard-won gains. They’ll have an opportunity to do so with Governor Jay Inslee expected to propose a carbon tax next week.

More recommended reading today: The Transport Politic rounds up the major transit expansion projects that are expected to get underway or start service in North American cities this year. The Dallas News reports a local suburb is threatening to seize and sell off dockless bike-share bikes parked within its borders. And Systemic Failure relays data that undercuts the rationale for requiring children to use bike helmets.

  • Vooch

    There is no difference between the two parties

  • JR

    That is objectively not true and it is statement indicative of lazy and shallow thinking.

  • Vooch

    LOL – keep drinking the kool aid

  • djx

    When it comes to certain issues there is a massive difference. Look at today’s news about TPS immigrants as an example.

    Yes they are both controlled by powerful economic interests. Yes, they are not as progressive as I or you or many people here would like.

    But it’s simply not true the are the same. It tends to be white men, speaking from a certain point of privilege, that say there is no difference.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There are tribal differences. And they want to serfs to be ripped off, to a greater extent, by different people.

    Also, Republicans appeal to their base by making other people, who tend to vote for Democrats, worse off. Making other people worse off makes their older voters feel good, obviating the need to make their own voters better off.

    Democrats seek swing votes by making those same people, who keep voting for them, worse off and sending money elsewhere.

  • BlueFairlane

    Trotting out one of the the most obvious, overused metaphors in modern politics as a reply is not a good way to counter an accusation of lazy and shallow thinking.

  • djx

    I’m not just talking about “being ripped off.” I’m talking about being beaten by police, deported, prevented from marrying, forced to carry an unwanted child to term, denied access to reproductive health services, etc etc.

    Talking about the difference solely/mainly in terms of who is “ripped off” is another thing that people of privilege – esp white men – can do. It’s not all about taxes.

  • bggb

    For a party that claims to stand for equal marriage laws, they were dragged kicking and screaming, not openly mentioning the policy until this decade.

    Deportation and police brutality are as bipartisan as bank bailouts and bombing people across the globe.

    There are better examples to use.

    Personally I thinks Repubs are obviously worse on a handful of issues. What is significantly more important is that Democrats aren’t different enough on FAR too many issues.

    Public transit being one of those things.

  • bggb

    Neither is claiming objectivity backed with accusations of laziness.

  • Daniel

    triangulation is literally about reducing the gap between the two parties, to minimize the Ds’ labor–and that also lets the Rs Overton their way rightward, making things easier for Ds but creating a sort of political Zeno’s Arrow; they’re only around half of registered voters now, which is a crisis of representation you wouldn’t get in any other country

  • Daniel

    this’s ironically transit-related, but traditional party politics, especially Democratic, have entered the same dilemma that Eric Mann or Damien Goodmon have here in LA–nobody’s listening to them anymore, and in fact they’ve been levered out of the public discourse altogether

    since the 90s the pols were able to blackmail/guilt/bandwagon together enough ballots, but after a quarter-century there’s a certain lack of response now

  • Nathan Rosenquist

    Well, they’re at least similar enough such that this country will make no real progress if all it’s citizens do is argue over Ds and Rs.

  • les_2

    Car tabs are excessive, state shouldn’t try to make up for years of public transportation apathy on a single generation of taxpayers. Bezos and company had their taxes scaled way back by Trump, time to reclaim them. C&T is also a good way to go, it disincentivizes wasteful energy consumption.
    Taking an extra year or two off the implementation schedule won’t hurt, just buy all the land now before it goes up anymore. Also, drop the needless stations such as 130th st ne and Georgetown.

  • Simon Phearson

    Sure there is. Democrats are sometimes wrong on transit. Republicans always are.

  • Kelly

    Republican-led Senate Law and Justice Committee did an investigation

    According to the executive summary from the above mentioned committee , key findings determined that Sound Transit misled people by a variety of actions including how information was provided to voters in its online tax calculator and mailing guide.

    “Sound Transit misled voters regarding use of the tax calculator it supplied online,” one of the key findings read. “Because it depended on the previous year’s Regional Transit Authority tax and made reference to ‘Motor vehicle value,’ voters were easily misled of confused as to how much they might pay.”

    The committee believes that Sound Transit also misled voters in its mail guide.

    In addition to all of this it is an agency that collects tax dollars however we voters have no say over who runs it. Sound transit lied and republicans proved it and have yet to do anything. Pierce County did not vote for it but because the more populated areas did Pierce County is now being charged for something they did not vote for (it did not pass in that county) but now has to pay for. Not to mention Sound transit and their use of eminent domain laws to remove people from their homes to obtain land for the transit system. It is a corrupt agency. This is not about Republican or Democrats this about a system that has no respect for the We The People. We voted for 30 dollar tabs period, and the State of Washington has continually tried to find ways to charge us more. If the agency lied it does not hold the will of the people particularly if they do not know what they are voting for because of deceit. Lastly it is Taxation without Representation. As I stated before not one Sound Transit Employee is elected. Until they are elected by the people, they should not be able to collect tax dollars to fund their agency, nor have anything on a ballot.

  • ortcutt

    The Sound Transit board members are all elected officials.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_Transit#Board_of_directors

    “By state law, the board includes the Washington State Secretary of Transportation and the King, Pierce, and Snohomish County Executives. The three county executives appoint other elected officials from their counties to the remaining seats on the board, which are apportioned based on population, with each county receiving a seat for each 145,000 people that live within the county.”

    You don’t vote for any government employees. You vote for elected officials, but not employees. Do you vote for your local police officers or teachers? No. You’re setting a standard that is never implemented and arguably should not be.

  • TakeFive

    Kelly’s point is that they should be elected; I’m happy to agree; it works in Denver.

    RTD is governed by a 15-member, publicly elected Board of Directors. Directors are elected to a four-year term and represent a specific district. Elections are staggered so that eight seats are open in one general election, seven in the next.

    http://www.rtd-denver.com/BoardDirectors.shtml

  • TakeFive

    Taking voters for granted is seldom wise. This particular tax has been wildly unpopular. Besides you are only talking about $2 billion out of $54 billion over 30 years; Good Grief… and grief is what will be saved by Dems rewarding their disgruntled constituency.

  • djx

    I’m not claiming Democrats stand for equal marriage laws in reality. But Republicans are loudly against them and taking steps to go backwards. The two parties are clearly different.

  • djx

    THIS. On many issues.

  • Kelly

    Currently our Transportation Secretary Roger Millar was appointed by Jay Enslee it is posted on the WDOT website. He was not elected to that position. My point is a level of corruption that has already been found. They lied to the people and now clearly have no accountability. Had these been elected positions to the transit board we can at least hold an elected officials responsible. Not even our Transportation is elected. There is no acountability with appointed officials, apart from the person who appointed them. The election process forces the government to bend to the will of the people as it should be and not the other way around.

  • Vooch

    funny – dems fund transit with crumbs and mass motoring with zillions.

  • ortcutt

    I’m sure it works fine, but so does a board like the Sound Transit board. There’s this idea that if we just made more and more government positions elected ones (judgeships, register of wills, medical examiner, etc…), then there would be greater accountability. In practice, for obscure downballot races, you usually get people choosing candidates that they know nothing about, often on party lines.

  • TakeFive

    You’re conflating issues; the topic is transit.

  • ortcutt

    The commenter above brought up governance so I commented on governance. Are you suggesting that transit governance is completely special?

  • Flatlander

    This is such a Democrat thing to do. They gain power and squander it trying to be moderates. What they should be doing is pushing state constitutional amendments that prohibit voter ID laws or something similar. When Republicans get into power they immediately take steps to consolidate it (change the filibuster rules, enact strict Voter ID laws, gerrymander, etc), and also act immediately to enact their agenda. It’s a total sham, but they did manage to get tax cuts for billionaires that are for all intents and purposes, permanent, and do lasting damage to the ACA without taking ownership of it.

  • Simon Phearson

    And Republicans… ?

  • Vooch

    more similar than different

  • Simon Phearson

    False.

  • doggril

    The story absolutely ignores the anger from voters over the way the tax is assessed. The assessment overvalues cars, which results in a higher tax than a lot of people thought they were approving. Once that was learned, people were absolutely pissed, even in areas that strongly supported the measure.
    If the unfair way cars are assessed isn’t addressed by the legislature, it’s a pretty easy prediction that the next transit tax will not fare as well as the last one did.

  • neroden

    Yep. Democrats are the conservative party of the status quo. Republicans are the fascist brownshirt party (as you can tell from their repeated attempts to prevent people from voting, funnel money to paramilitary organizations, spy on Americans without so much as suspicion, etc.)

    …not a great situation. Basically the Democrats stand for nothing, but the Republicans are the spiritual heirs to Hitler and Mussolini and must be fought.

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