What with Congress, the Legislature and the Governor’s office in Democratic hands, and their Dear Leader Bush in the midst of a massive political meltdown, the Washington State GOP hasn’t had much to laugh about these days. So Dems might want to stand up and take notice when an insider tells me that the folks at Camp McKenna were “cackling with glee” over passage of SB 5803, which would establish a regional transportation commission to take over transportation planning and transit operations in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties.
My unnamed source says some McKenna aides were literally laughing at the Dems for using their unchallenged political power to, well… give it away. According to critics the bill would create a commission that could potentially peel away the power of the counties, hand control to pro-roads/anti-transit Republicans, and blow up Sound Transit.
On that last point, SB 5803 sponsor Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) doesn’t disagree. Long a critic of Sound Transit for what he sees as a suburban-centric focus, and for failing to build light rail stations in dense Seattle neighborhoods, Murray doesn’t seem to mind the prospect of the agency disappearing within a new regional commission. But he told me that his bill is intended to enable the region to seize more control of its transportation planning away from the state, and to foster the kind of inter-agency, intra-region cooperation and collaboration that has thus far been sorely lacking.
Worthy objectives to which I can’t voice much disagreement. But…
The devil is in the details — and there are an awful lot of details which the Dems seriously need to reconsider.
I’m not so sure that I want to see our region’s transit agencies rolled up in a commission that will also be responsible for building the region’s roads, as I’m tired of seeing increasingly popular transit projects politically tied to expensive, business-as-usual highway packages. (How’s that Sound Transit/RTID ballot measure working for you?)
But I’m most concerned by the provisions which seem to be painting the widest smiles on the faces of the anti-transit McKenna folk — political compromises that seem tailor made for Machiavellian Republicans and their wealthy backers. (And the fact that the bill is largely based on recommendations that came out of the –gack– Discovery Institute, doesn’t ease my cynicism.) Large, arbitrarily drawn districts that will almost surely promote political horse trading between urban, suburban and exurban areas, putatively “non-partisan” elected commissioners that give Republicans an opportunity to run for office without putting an “R” next to their names, and a bizarre veto provision that gives a single commissioner the power to block any proposal from going to voters — this is the making of a highly politicized commission that the pro-roads folks will surely attempt to game. And since there’s a helluva lot more money to be made pouring concrete than opposing it, game the system they will.
Sen. Murray assured me that these are provisions that can, and probably will be changed before final passage, and I came away from our conversation hopeful that the final bill might be something that I can support. But the version of SB 5803 that passed the Senate yesterday, well… that ain’t it.
Truth is, I hadn’t been paying much attention to this bill, and its sudden move through the Senate kind of took me by surprise. I’ll have to educate myself more on the details, talk to a few more backers and opponents, and then come back with a more thoughtful analysis. My sense has always been that funding not governance has been the resource most lacking from our regional transportation planning. Not to mention imagination. And I’m just not convinced this bill adequately addresses either one of these concerns, in exchange for what it gives up.