Politics Light Rail ‘08. Version 2.0
posted by April 11 at 15:57 PMon
The idea behind raising the tax is to get more transit into the package so that Pierce and Snohomish voters (and board members), who won’t exactly get much out of light rail to Northgate and across I-90 to (near) Microsoft, will have some tangible goodies to vote for—more bus rapid transit, more frequent Sounder service, and a streetcar in Everett.
Of course, this is a double-edged sword: The increase would bump the project from $6.3 billion to $7.5 billion, perhaps enough to turn off voters. And really, the extra goodies aren’t so noticeable.
However, a last-minute light bulb from Rob Johnson, the political director at the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition, is making the rounds at ST right now, and it may actually convince voters to get behind a bigger package (enthusiastically). It may also convince board members like Aaron Reardon and John Ladenberg, the Snohomish and Pierce County Executives, respectively, who are currently cold and lukewarm on an ‘08 measure, to go for it.
The idea would even be hard for KC Exec Ron Sims—who is suddenly the biggest obstacle to ST 2—to turn down.
The idea is this: Use all the money from the extra 10th of a percent ($1.2 billion) and give it directly to the Snohomish, Pierce, and King County transit agencies. If you divvy that up by population, that’d be about $650 million for King, and $300 to $400 million each for the smaller counties.
Johnson’s artful “Local Only” pitch is this: Let’s give voters something for today (buses) while also investing in tomorrow (rapid mass transit).
In my opinion, that simple sweet tweak seriously improves the potential for passing a transit measure in November. And equally important right now, it will get some of the reluctant board members in the Yes column.
Is it legal? Does ST have the right to tax on behalf of KC Metro, Pierce Transit, and Snohomish County’s Community Transit? Yes, according to ST—because they already have operating contracts with all three agencies, and it would just be a matter of updating the contracts.
Johnson has run the idea by Sound Transit and, so far, according to spokesperson Ric Ilgenfritz, the board hasn’t bitten.
P.S. (and I might start doing a lot of this in the next few weeks, so apologies in advance): I’ve been interviewing Johnson and reporting on his work for several years now. I met him 5 or 6 years ago when he was just starting out—I think he still lived in the suburbs…at his mom’s?—and he has turned into one of the true stars in the the political community. And I don’t mean a star in the Reagan Dunn way that some grating young politicians can be, I mean, he’s a true asset to the the public, and he’s a gem in a reporter’s Rolodex.
Whether we’re on the same side of an issue (light rail 2008) or the opposite (Prop 1), he answers questions with out a grain of b.s., does an outstanding, clear job advocating his side, and is upfront when he may be off-base. He seems to savor tough questions, and always does his best to let you know exactly where things stand. He’s courteous in an old-fashioned way, gets to know you personally without being a creep, and on the occasion when he loosens up a little, he’s a blast to be around. (Genius Awards ‘05?)
If I stop covering local politics, Johnson is one voice I’ll miss. And one you won’t be able to. Guaranteed.