By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One of West Seattle’s three state legislators, just back from the short special session in Olympia, shared insights today at a West Seattle Chamber of Commerce-sponsored brown-bag-lunch discussion.
As noted here on Saturday, the session led to approval for extending Boeing tax breaks but inaction on a transportation package that could save Metro from slashing service.
State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, a Burien Democrat who’s on the House Transportation Committee, told today’s “Lunch with LEO” (local elected official) gathering at ArtsWest that he didn’t think transportation “was ever likely to get resolved” in this special session: “We’re not close enough to a deal on a transportation package,” between the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate. “We have some philosophical differences on things. … The Senate does not believe transit, pedestrian (etc.) is a state responsibility.”
The House, he recapped, passed a transportation package last June (HB 1959), which would have included the “local-funding option for Metro Transit,” among other things – another ferry that would have been built at Vigor on Harbor Island (he pointed out that ferries aren’t just transportation, they’re also the state’s #1 tourist attraction), an extension of Highway 509, and more, not just transit.
He said there were specific West Seattle-area projects in the bill such as improved frequency for Route 120 and RapidRide C Line – splitting it off from the D Line – “so they wouldn’t be subject to … reliability challenges” that stem from the two lines being tied together, “mainly because of traffic problems in Ballard.”
For the legislators who are more concerned about highways than buses, Rep. Fitzgibbon – identifying himself as a bus rider – pointed out, “Our state highways don’t function if you take all those people in buses and put them in cars.” He said the Senate also wants to divert more money from the general fund into roads – taking it away from education, health care, etc., even though the court-mandated school-funding increase has yet to happen. But he offered some hope: “We are working very hard on an agreement,” however, he said, especially regarding Metro.
A 1.5% motor-vehicle excise tax was going to be requested from voters for roads and buses: “Without that option, King County can ask voters for a small sales-tax increase and flat vehicle fee, as high as $100 – (but) that’s undesirable for a number of reasons …” It would only cover transit, not roads, and the latter need money too, Fitzgibbon notes, especially areas like Vashon and White Center where the county is low on money to maintain, and plow if needed, its roads. And, “we don’t think the voters are as likely to approve it.”
What can we do to help make the transportation deal happen? Rep. Fitzgibbon’s reply – “I’d always encourage you to contact your legislators, but we’re all on board …” He mentioned the “listening tour” that came to Seattle recently, noting that citywide business leaders rented a bus and took the legislators on a tour to show them some chokepoints (including our bridge). Specific stories about employees who have trouble getting to work and might have to “switch modes if their bus is cut” could be helpful; talking about how much the delay of freight getting stuck in traffic costs you/your business; talking about how freight from elsewhere in the state (gets stuck) …” Specific stories help, he said.
Another question: What’s up with proposed I-90 tolling? Rep. Fitzgibbon recapped the reasons – “it’s not by any stretch a done deal that it will be tolled,” and yes, it would require federal approval, and likely wouldn’t be decided for a few years.
Another transportation issue: The Sound Transit Long-Range Plan came up. Its next steps for expanding the system would include “new revenue to build (any) new line,” Fitzgibbon noted. To get beyond what’s currently on the drawing board, “they’re going to have to authorize new revenue .. and they’re going to have to be authorized by the Legislature.” 2016 was under discussion for a new ballot measure, which would require authorization by the Legislature in 2015, and Sound Transit would have to decide what revenue it wants before then.
Fitzgibbon noted that it’s a little challenging to have that looming out there and not under discussion as part of current transportation challenges.
Asked about other funding options for Metro, Fitzgibbon pointed out what Metro itself had pointed out last week – they already have cut, delayed, deferred in a variety of spending areas, and implemented a task force’s recommendations about how to make sure service got to the places that needed it most.
So why won’t legislators let the tax proposal that would stave off Metro cuts (and help roads) go to voters?
Fitzgibbon answered that he believes legislators have, in principle, agreed to let a motor-vehicle-excise tax go to voters – but they do not want to allow it to be “de-linked” from other components. So it’s being held hostage, in effect, while other details are negotiated. (He also mentioned debating a Republican legislator from Cowlitz County a few months ago and noted that legislator was worried voters would approve it – that’s up for them to decide, Fitzgibbon contended.)
He had opened the Lunch With LEO conversation with a recap of the special session’s Boeing deal. He talked about the preferential tax rate given to Boeing in 2003 for the 787 – and how the state was “not happy” that it set up a second line for that aircraft out of state – as context for where things stand now; at the heart of this was extending that rate, as far out as 2040 per Boeing’s request.
“We did extend the tax break and put into place some really unprecedented accountability measures,” he said. “If they move any part of the production out of Washington … they lose that tax break.” He says having Boeing “at the heart of” our state’s manufacturing sector remains a boon for the economy. “All in all, I think it was a win for our region.”
What happens if the Machinists don’t ratify their contract? Fitzgibbon was asked. Legislators don’t have an opinion on that, but he knows there are multiple options; their current contract has three years to go.
He was also asked about climate change – an issue about which Rep. Fitzgibbon is passionate. A bill passed this year creates a work group that he is part of, to recommend to the Legislature “how we will meet our greenhouse-gas goals.” So far, the two parties have not been able to agree on how to get to those goals. “The biggest piece for any community … is to have a price tag on carbon .. (so that) the cost of burning fuel includes the cost of climate change.” British Columbia, for example, has a carbon tax, he says; California is working on an alternate method, “cap and trade“; our state is talking about which of those ways of tackling it might work. They’ve also talked about cleaner fuels, retrofitting homes, and other things playing into it. “I don’t think the work group is going to come to an agreement … and pass legislation” next year, he lamented, though in his view it’s urgent; “maybe in 2015.” “We will continue to take little bites of the apple until we’re ready to take big bites of the apple.”
What would it take to convince “climate-change deniers”? he was asked. Tough question, he acknowledged, since some approach it ideologically rather than acknowledging the science. One way is to “address to the co-benefits” of addressing it – “if we make it easier for people to walk or bike to the grocery store, that’s one less car on the roads …” which also benefits Puget Sound, since cars are responsible for a lot of its pollution. “I’m not going to be able to persuade somebody who thinks that climate change is fiction, that it’s real,” however, he said.
Joe Fitzgibbon is one of three legislators representing the 34th District, which includes West Seattle, White Center, Vashon and Maury Islands, and part of Burien, along with Rep. Eileen Cody and State Sen. Sharon Nelson. Find them here.