Sprawl Transportation Bill Passes, ST3 Goes To Ballot

The Washington legislature finally passed a transportation package and guess what? It’s a mess! Much of the money goes to sprawl inducing highway expansion. Republicans blocked the clean fuel standard. But, on the bright side, the bill allows ST3 to go on the ballot in 2016, which, if it passes, would provide $15 billion in transit funding. And that might actually be significant enough to overlook the freewheelin’ highway spending binge. Traffic is bad.  So, it gives some people comfort to spend several billion dollars widening freeways and adding new ones even if won’t help much due to induced demand, then so be it. As long as we get ST3 too.

Governor Jay Inslee had threatened to veto if Republicans passed a bill with a poison pill in the bill that would have raided 700 million dollars from transit if Inslee passed the clean fuel standard. But Inslee dropped his veto threat with the July 1 deadline for a partial government shutdown looming. The Stranger detailed how bullshit the lack of a clean fuel standard is given the huge health benefits. But the transportation package passed and it will put $15 billion ST3 transit package on the ballot in 2016, which is the only foreseeable path forward for gamechanging transit upgrades in the coming decade. The next hurdle is the Puget Sound region to approve the new taxes to fund ST3.

Governor Jay Inslee signed the transportation bill with a big grin on his face, but he must resent how much Republicans mucked up the bill before he did.

Governor Jay Inslee signed the transportation bill with a big grin on his face, but he must resent how much Republicans mucked up the bill before he did.

Focusing on transit seems even more important given the continuing struggles of the middle class and especially the lower class. The Seattle Times had an excellent article on the uneven economic recovery causing a widening wealth gap in the Seattle metropolitan area. The wealthiest 5 percent of people have seen their household incomes completely recover from the recession dip and are now picking up where they left off and surging upward. The poorest 20 percent not only saw their household incomes nosedive with the 2008 recession, but also to continue to decline during the recovery. For the poorest 20 percent, household incomes are now 12% lower than their 2007 levels. (All these numbers by the US Census Bureau and adjusted for inflation.)

Raising Seattle’s minimum wage helps deal with wage inequality but only so much. Much of the poverty in the metro region is concentrated in South King County where municipalities haven’t raised their minimum wage above the state’s. While South King County residents can work in Seattle to take advantage of the higher wage, but traffic congestion makes that option less attractive by increasing commute times. Better, faster transit would help (Another reason to support ST3.)

So would raising minimum wages in more jurisdictions. Plus building more affordable housing throughout the region. There’s hope though. Even Bellevue is getting in on the affordable housing game with a new multifamily tax exemption program (although constructing 45 affordable units per year is a pittance compared with demand.)

And there’s always Washington extremely regressive tax system relying on a 9.5 percent sales tax rather than a progressive income tax. But that’s a big nut to crack.

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