The war on buses

A bus.

The Washington state legislature doesn’t exactly make Congress look good, but sensible governance isn’t exactly a thing here either. To wit: the state Senate chose to ignore the transportation bill that passed the state House of Representatives last week, threatening huge cuts to local transit services and making the case against bicameralism in one stroke of inaction.

Here’s where it gets really silly: The part of the now-dead transportation bill that might have held off those giant cuts would have given King County the authority to submit a ballot measure asking voters to raise the vehicle registration fee in order to fund Metro transit service, as well as county and city roads.

In other words, the county needs the state legislature’s permission to ask local voters to approve a local tax. And the state legislature won’t give it.

What really gets me about this is how people around here seem to miss how completely insane that system is. Here’s Seattle Transit Blog, obviously a site that’s sympathetic to transit funding, bemoaning the situation:

It’s important to remember that this entire situation was created by the legislature, in decision after decision after decision. It was the legislature that limited the Congestion Reduction Charge (which passed the KC Council with a supermajority) to only two years. It was the legislature that only provided Highway 99 construction mitigation money for half the length of construction disruptions. Both temporary funding sources expire in 2014, resulting in the current crisis. However, these are only issues due to an earlier and much larger attack on Metro: SB 6865.

But then, at the end of the article, the blog complains about the Republicans who control the state Senate thusly: “For a party that claims to dislike big government it is the height of hypocrisy to block local governments from enacting the will of their voters when it comes to local services.” Which is a fine point, but it also demonstrates just how low even transit advocates are setting the bar these days

Rather than push for the state to restore all the funding it’s taken away (or any of the funding it’s taken away), they’re just calling on the legislature to let one local jurisdiction tax itself. The state really should be doing something other than getting out of the way if Washington’s taxpayers were making a substantial contribution to transit statewide, in the same way Seattle taxpayers subsidize road projects out east.

Weirdly, the only idea even vaguely similar to this is coming from the Senate majority leader, Rodney Tom (who just voted to block the transportation package), arguing that the state shouldn’t even let local jurisdictions the authority to tax themselves unless it’s linked to a broader road package (like the one he just blocked):

“If you don’t link them, what happens is, once the transit crowd gets what they consider they want, the road package gets torpedoed, and vice versa,” he said.

He’s not talking about the state directly funding transit. Of course, no one’s talking about that because it combines three things that the state Republicans appear to hate with a blinding passion — taxes, transit, and Seattle — and therefore doesn’t stand a chance of happening. Rather, he’s talking about a tradeoff where King County the option to fund transit itself, while the state is directly funding roads. Go figure.

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