Dems Gain Control of Washington State 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.

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