Over at Publicola, Josh goes out of his way to say “Thank You Rob McKenna” for saving light rail from implosion during Sound Transit’s troubled early years:
[H]ad the crisis in 2000 gone undetected, stand up leaders like Joni Earl would never have been asked to step in. The project would have quietly failed, and the agency would have simply dissolved around 2003 or so. It took a loud crisis, to wake everyone up and get the project back on track.
And while the press (and I’m proud to have played a role ) deserves some of the credit for spotlighting the agency’s financial disasters, it was dissident Sound Transit board member Rob McKenna (the others were party line cheer leaders) who nudged the press to take the closer look. He already had taken a closer look—and his spread sheets were more than compelling. […] I’d say Rob McKenna (ironically, given that his agenda was to bring the project down) was one of the most important Sound Transit board members there has been.
Yeah, well, I suppose, maybe, but it’s worth pointing out that just because McKenna worked as hard as he could to discredit Sound Transit and its early leadership, doesn’t mean that’s its management woes wouldn’t have otherwise been uncovered and corrected. I mean, its not like Sound Transit didn’t (and doesn’t) still have plenty of powerful enemies without him.
So while it sure is amusing to give McKenna ironic credit for unintentionally saving the rail line he tried to destroy, in truth, he was merely a conduit and public voice for a cabal of anti-rail partisans (you think he actually compiled those spreadsheets himself?), so I think Josh overstates his case.
At least when it comes to Sound Transit Phase I.
Phase II on the other hand, and the East Link extension that will comprise the bulk of the project… now that will be McKenna’s bastard child without a doubt. For if not for McKenna’s insistence on mandating the onerous “subarea equity” provisions into Sound Transit’s financing scheme, the agency would never have had the revenue stream available to make East Link light rail possible.
At McKenna’s insistence the Sound Transit taxing district was divided into five subareas, with an equity provision requiring that taxes raised in each subarea be spent on projects directly benefiting its residents. With the bulk of the Central Link line running through Seattle, revenues generated in the North King subarea have already been fully bonded for years to come to pay for construction, maintenance and operation of the recently opened line.
But the relatively minor improvements thus far constructed on the Eastside—mostly park and rides, bus ramps and expanded bus service—have been much less capital intensive. This leaves oodles of East King subarea Phase I tax revenue still coming in, unencumbered by existing debt, and available to bond a billion or two of the several billion dollars needed to cross I-90 and build out through Bellevue to Redmond in Phase II’s East Link plan.
Subarea equity was meant to cripple Sound Transit, and it has; financial constraints are one of the reasons it takes Sound Transit so long to complete construction. Indeed, without the billion or so of federal grants—money McKenna went to DC to lobby to block—the existing line and the University District extension might not have been possible.
But now that Sound Transit has survived to open the first segment and convince voters to expand its revenues to pay for Phase II, the subarea equity provision has come back to bite the anti-rail schemers in the ass, enabling Sound Transit to deliver to voters a much more ambitious East Link line than Phase II revenues alone could afford. That is, through the magic of subarea equity, East King Phase I taxing authority is now subsidizing Phase II construction.
So, yeah, thank you Rob McKenna, for making East Link possible… and so much more difficult for you and your anti-rail buddies to kill off.