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Monday, May 9, 2011

Light Rail-Less South King County Commuters Should Thank Rob McKenna For Their "Sub-Area Equity"

Posted by on Mon, May 9, 2011 at 11:01 AM

With post-Great Recession sales tax revenues coming in far below projections, the once promised light-rail extension south to 272nd Street in Federal Way is now unlikely to happen anytime soon. And by "soon," I mean in the next few decades.

And if commuters down in South King County are pissed off at this news, they should thank Rob McKenna and the "sub-area equity" provision he foisted on Sound Transit in his efforts to muck up the works.

Last year, Sound Transit officials learned the recession and slow economic recovery had drained $3.9 billion from the agency's 15-year financial plan. South King County has been slowest to recover, with tax revenue having dropped 30 percent.

Sound Transit's policy of sub-area equity assures that taxes imposed on one subarea, like south King County, support projects and operations that directly benefit that area.

"The subarea equity policy where we divide taxing districts into subareas and then have to invest the revenues raised in that area is a terrible way to build a regional system," Patterson said. "Because essentially what happens is what you're seeing here — the poorer areas, and the socially and economically challenged areas end up not connected to regional transit."

Of course, that's not how "sub-area equity" was originally billed. No, McKenna and other backers pushed it as a way to protect the rest of the Sound Transit taxing district from evil/greedy Seattle, which otherwise would have presumably sucked in all their tax dollars to build transit here. How's that working out for you, Federal Way? Be sure to appropriately thank Mr. McKenna for his head-up-ass transit balkanization policy when he runs for governor in 2012.


Comments (17) RSS

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Baconcat 1
You're showing so much leadership in helping protect transit in your county, Dow
Posted by Baconcat on May 9, 2011 at 11:06 AM · Report this
Political reality check time - ST would probably not have passed either public vote without the subarea equity provision.
Posted by Mr. X on May 9, 2011 at 11:24 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 3
It does not need to happen because petroleum will be cheap and plentiful for ever and we will all be able to afford lots of gasoline for our cars. Not to worry, nothing will change.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on May 9, 2011 at 11:25 AM · Report this
if you want transit in this country, root for oil prices to rise. our commitment to failed ideas will continue unabated on this one wo/ extraordinary external circumstances. as w/ any change to the corporate sponsored status quo, figure it takes 80% or more support from the populace to get what we want. does gas have to be $6 a gallon for that?
Posted by philosophy school dropout on May 9, 2011 at 11:32 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
Remember, every day people like Kemper Freeman wake up, bless their al-Qaeda cell training, and try to destroy America and our infrastructure to further harm our economy and destroy America.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2011 at 11:38 AM · Report this
Cascadian 6
I'm actually going to defend sub-area equity a bit. It's politically necessary for regional transit, and enables each area to get what they pay for. Without it, we would have been limited to a King County system. No commuter rail from Everett or express bus service from Lynnwood, because Snohomish County wouldn't have agreed to the plan. No commuter rail and express bus service from or in the Tacoma area, because they would have voted it down too.

That leaves the only remaining regions as North, South, and East King. With a countywide system we'd probably still have built the same light rail lines that we either have or have approved to build. And I don't see the express bus service being much different either. So lack of sub-area equity would have been a wash for Seattle and the Eastside. Maybe South King would have ended up with less, but thanks to declining sub-area revenue it's not going to get as much under sub-area equity anyway.

Sub-area equity got us a commuter rail system and better express bus service across the region, which is exactly what we need in suburban areas. And it cost Seattle nothing.

My only real complaint is that each sub-area should have taxing authority to approve additional service ahead of schedule. I do think the need to get the suburbs on board has slowed down the rate of building our light rail system, even if it hasn't slowed down what we built. With the ability of North King to pay for accelerating its own projects, we could have a lot more light rail a lot faster. But that's a change we could institute now without affecting sub-area equity either way.
Posted by Cascadian on May 9, 2011 at 11:52 AM · Report this
So Goldy, would you say you're for or against keeping tax revenue in the area in which it was raised?

Because with this post and your article on the welfare state in Washington, you're seemingly arguing both sides.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on May 9, 2011 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
@6 and you would be wrong.

Sub-area equity is another tax on the productive tax-paying urban centers to support the anti-tax areas that shouldn't get transit because it's not cost-effective and has ridiculous ridership per tax dollar ratios.

In other words - communism.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2011 at 12:18 PM · Report this
Goldy 9

I only seem to be arguing both sides if you're an idiot. The Welfare State article and posts are intended to educate voters on the real direction in which tax revenues flow.
Posted by Goldy on May 9, 2011 at 12:21 PM · Report this
@9 ah... so you didn't want to find a solution to the inequity in tax distribution, you just wanted to bitch about it. gotcha.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on May 9, 2011 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Cascadian 11
I probably shouldn't bother, but Will, not a penny of Seattle's money is going to build an inch of transit in any location outside of North King. There's no way you can say that Seattle is being taxed to pay for the suburbs. It just isn't true.

Now, it's probably true that Seattle is being hindered in terms of how fast it is building transit. That's the real problem with sub-area equity. But that could be fixed by allowing Seattle (and other areas) to pay more to accelerate projects in that subarea.
Posted by Cascadian on May 9, 2011 at 5:07 PM · Report this
12 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
We need to change this:
"It's unfortunate because the extension to Federal Way is a casualty of the recession," said King County Councilmember Julia Patterson.

To read something like this:
"ST 2 was passed at the height of one of the largest economic bubbles in the history of mankind. That there was enough money to build out light-rail to Federal Way or Tacoma was a complete work of fiction."
Posted by MichaelfromHA on May 11, 2011 at 6:18 PM · Report this
The comments above re: would never have passed without the sub-area equity component are spot on. Additionally, per the articles on this issue in the PI, South King County has benefited well beyond their sub-area equity, to date. "Despite the downturn, the south King subarea has the most investments to date, with full investment in Sounder rail and stations in Tukwila, Auburn, and Kent, full bus service, and Central Link light rail to Seatac, Beal said"

One other item - in the "Fuggedaboutit" article, ST admits that "Express bus service is quicker"...Light Rail is obsolete technology - we can do better for less $$$$ to actually move people.
Posted by GandalfST on May 12, 2011 at 10:32 AM · Report this
I have yet for anyone to explain why light rail costs on average $35 million per mile in the rest of the world, and $20 million per mile in Baltimore but $179 million per mile in Seattle.

And that doesn't account for the $20 billion that was wasted in the first 15 years of "planning".

Light rail is supposed to be cheap and easy to roll out.

But we (in typical fashion) have twisted it into something arcane, slow to implement, and incredibly expensive.

By my calculations we should have spent enough money to lay 1,000 (one thousand!) miles of track at market prices.

We have 20 miles.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on May 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM · Report this
It's been a while, but last I heard folks in Tacoma were happy with the results of sub-area equity and that the line in down town couldn't have gotten built without it.
Posted by MichaelfromHA on May 12, 2011 at 6:59 PM · Report this
Washington state is WAY to democratic (the process, not the political party). People vote on how to vote here. In other places in "these United States", the public votes ONCE on real issues and after that, public angencies say "we're going to do this, and if you don't like it, MOVE". (That's why I think public projects cost substantially more than in anyplace else... Oh yes, commercials say "we're different here" but different doesn't necessarily mean BETTER; it often just means "insane".)
Posted by Merc on July 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM · Report this

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