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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why I Oppose Sub-Area Equity for Sound Transit

Posted by on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 10:30 AM

This guest post is by Ed Murray, who is running for mayor of Seattle and took umbrage with recent posts on Slog and Seattle Transit Blog about his proposal to scrap sub-area equity — Eds

The next mayor of Seattle will earn a seat on the Sound Transit Board just as critical light rail expansion plans are being determined. How effectively that mayor works with colleagues and communities to deliver needed services in Seattle will be a critical benchmark for effectiveness in office.

Given the high stakes of this process, I believe we need both a new style of leadership, and reform of divisive internal policy barriers, to assure Seattle gets a fair share of new service. Delivering on real transit improvements, including light rail expansion, will require a mayor who can bring all sides together, diffuse opposition, build a coalition and move the issue forward. Our current mayor has not done this. I can do this. I have done this.

Let me take you back a decade. In 2003 I was appointed chair of the House Transportation Committee at a dark period for the state’s transportation system. Republicans were in control of the state senate, and Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695 had effectively repealed state funding for public transportation programs and local transit agencies. Over the next three sessions, I worked to win over conservative Democrats and Republicans to rebuild state support for transit, restoring tens of millions of dollars into transit and transportation alternatives.

While others in Olympia were willing to throw in the towel and narrowly focus transportation spending on freeway expansion to serve the suburbs, I successfully fought to make significant investments in several key areas that benefit Seattle today:

• I reestablished the state’s responsibility to provide funding support for public transportation;
• I leveraged and extended private sector partnerships to reduce employee commute trips;
• I provided much-needed funding flexibility for transit agencies to serve special needs populations;
• I provided funding for innovative programs to encourage transportation efficiency, such as car-share programs;
• I made key investments in “feet first” transportation modes, including enhanced funding for Safe Routes to Schools, bicycle and pedestrian safety programs;
• And I create the highly successful Regional Mobility grant program, which is focused on projects that maximize the movement people –not just cars — through congested corridors and provides regional connectivity.

By contrast, when the mayor first ran in 2009 he promised that a Seattle-only light rail expansion measure would be on the ballot within a year, yet it never happened.

He promised major bicycle and pedestrian improvements, but halfway into the 10-year Bicycle Master Plan, he’s delivered only a tiny fraction of the needed funding. The voter-approved Bridging the Gap levy was supposed to provide additional dollars to help SDOT address the city’s many transportation needs. Instead, it has been used by this mayor and the city council to backfill the loss of city general fund dollars that were diverted from transportation priorities to other uses. City general-fund support for SDOT has actually shrunk by 25 percent in recent years. The mayor recently held a press conference to promote a new transit-capable bridge across the Ship Canal, but has failed in the basic task of uniting a majority of the council behind his vision, so nothing will get done.

Earlier this week in another publication, surrogates of the mayor pointed to his support of Sound Transit’s sub-area equity as proof of his transit credentials—and attempted to portray opponents of sub-area equity, including me, as anti-Seattle.

Sound Transit’s sub-area equity requires that any money raised in one of the five sub-areas of the Sound Transit district must be spent in that sub-area. It may seem sensible on the surface, but it is really a terrible policy, originally cooked up by light rail opponent Rob McKenna (when he served on the King County Council and the Sound Transit board) as a way of forcing transit dollars that should have been spent in Seattle to be diverted to the suburbs instead.

Sub-area equity has done more harm to the cause of efficient deployment of limited transit dollars in the central Puget Sound—and thus more harm to Seattle—than any other single decision made in the last two decades of transit planning. It allocates dollars based not on density and demand for service, but on political geography. Instead of building a system from the inside out to maximize ridership and benefit smart land use decisions, it balkanizes the region and facilitates sprawl.

Sub-area equity needs to go. And it needs to be replaced with a more sensible policy that stipulates that Sound Transit dollars will be spent efficiently to add light rail where it will have the maximum impact in terms of moving people, i.e. in denser cities like Seattle and our growing inner-ring suburbs. Such a policy would ensure that Seattle’s transit needs are better accommodated – particularly our underserved West side Green Line communities including Ballard and West Seattle – while also ensuring that hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars are not diverted to building light rail in outlying areas where population densities are insufficient to support strong ridership.

Since its inception, light rail planning decisions in this area have been made regionally through the Sound Transit board. But rather than cultivating strong relationships and engaging the decision makers in relevant discussions about the future of transit in Seattle, the current mayor has isolated himself from the board and is now largely marginalized. Perhaps this explains why the mayor clings to a bad policy like sub-area equity: because he lacks both the clout and the vision to deliver on something larger, it’s the only way he is can try to ensure Seattle gets a share of Sound Transit dollars, no matter how limited. Seattle residents deserve and expect more.

Rather than promising unrealistically that Seattle will go it alone on light rail, I have pledged that as mayor I will leverage the positive relationships I have developed at the federal, state and regional level over the past 18 years to move forward on progressive transit and transportation ideas. To make real progress on light rail we need to advance development of a Sound Transit 3 package to put before the voters in 2016—one that adopts a policy of spending transit dollars where they have the biggest impact rather than according to an arbitrary political formula cooked up by conservative Republicans in the suburbs.

I believe such a policy would actually lead to a package that makes larger transit investments in Seattle than under the current sub-area equity policy. And that’s not just good policy, it’s good politics as well, since any ST3 ballot measure must win overwhelmingly in transit-friendly, vote-rich Seattle to pass districtwide.

The real answer to Seattle’s transit challenges is not to hunker down and hide behind a bad policy that undermines our ability to make thoughtful decisions about how we best allocate our limited transit dollars. It is to develop good policies and good relationships that benefit both Seattle and its key regional partners and actually gets more light rail built. As mayor, that is exactly what I will do.


Comments (41) RSS

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Cato the Younger Younger 1
And just like the wars in the middle's just a few years away with "my" plan...just wait a few more years. *sigh*
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on April 25, 2013 at 10:38 AM · Report this
Baconcat 2
You talk about leadership and cooperation but lost control of the senate two years in a row and helped rubber stamp all-cuts budgets for 3 while the house desperately pushed the sorts of expansionary policies that get light rail built and services saved. You also have a poor relationship with the vast majority of the grassroots pro-transit community that will do all the heavy lifting in terms of direct advocacy.

If what happened in the Senate and with constituents and activists is any indication, your hopes for working with others has dire implications for Seattle's well-being. You may enjoy titles and power but you have people to help.

As to your analysis of the policy you promote here? There's no analysis, just grim rhetoric and self-serving pandering. Nice try.
Posted by Baconcat on April 25, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Report this
Well said! Why anyone would think the brainchild of anti-government Republicans would be good for Seattle or light-rail is beyond me. But I guess if you're a McGinn supporter you need to latch on to whatever you can...
Posted by PubliusRex on April 25, 2013 at 10:51 AM · Report this
I reestablished the state’s responsibility to provide funding support for public transportation;

That's pretty brave, to lead with a whopper of this magnitude. The state doesn't provide one single dime of direct support for mass transit in the Seattle area.
Posted by d.p. on April 25, 2013 at 10:55 AM · Report this
Bob in Everett 5
The reason why people outside Seattle would consider voting for Sound Transit is because there is a guarantee that all the money isn't spent inside the city limits of Seattle. Sorry, there are more people in the Sound Transit service area outside the Seattle City Limits than inside. They mayor of Seattle does not have the power or authority to take our money. (And, this is coming from a Democrat.)
Posted by Bob in Everett on April 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM · Report this
#1 care to explain the "two years in a row" comment? Nod often people confuse Ed Murray and Lisa Brown...

Don't worry though, it's an understandable mistake for someone who clearly doesn't know what they're talking about.

Is the implication supposed to be that McGinn could keep Tom and Sheldon from joining their true party? LOL
Posted by George H. Ruth on April 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM · Report this
Once again Ed Murray proves he is nothing more than an ultra-loser. Isn't deserving of any political position, and if he hadn't been appointed to his current position, he never would have been elected to it!
Posted by sgt_doom on April 25, 2013 at 11:05 AM · Report this
@5: And it works the other way around, too. You shouldn't be able to siphon Seattle money -- or prevent Seattle from taxing itself at a higher rate to fund more ambitious projects -- simply because you are greater in number (though sparser in placement and with different transportation needs).

It's extremely odd that Murray writes of wanting a policy to ensure "that hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars are not diverted to building light rail in outlying areas", when sub-area equity is literally that policy.
Posted by d.p. on April 25, 2013 at 11:05 AM · Report this
Oh brother.

It's awful nice of the Slog to give Ed Murray a chance to release the longest mayoral race writeup I've seen from him (and widest audience, no doubt) since announcing his candidacy.

Looking forward to the inevitable response from the astute STB. I don't entirely blame Ed for having the opinion he does -- it's a complicated topic. But he's got this wrong. I know it would have been hard (given his personality) to shy away from the kerfuffle on Tuesday, but by the end of this I think he'll have wished he did.
Posted by grkle on April 25, 2013 at 11:06 AM · Report this
I also think it's cute when Murray puts things like "advancing ST3 to the 2016 ballot" in bold, like it's a new or unique idea and not what McGinn, transit advocates (and other candidates, I'd imagine) already have in mind.
Posted by grkle on April 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 11
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
cressona 12
Sorry, to me this smells like classic Ed Murray, for anyone who's been following the guy for the last decade:
A. Present oneself as mass transit's biggest friend.
B. Offer up some new proposal that pretends to save mass transit but actually kneecaps mass transit.

Here's the thing. If you take Ed Murray at his word, he's trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. With sub-area equity, Sound Transit already could build an initial north-south light rail trunk between downtown Seattle and Ballard as part of a Sound Transit 3 package. In fact, my understanding is that, to make the different areas' projects balance out, Seattle all but needs to take on such an ambitious project. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
Posted by cressona on April 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM · Report this
cressona 13
As usual, Sen. Murray says, "Trust me. I know what I'm doing." But time and again, whenever any of his cockamamie transit proposals come under any kind of scrutiny, they get revealed for the Trojan horses they are. Ed Murray is not doing his constituents' bidding. He's doing the bidding of wealthy transit foes like John Stanton.

For the latest takedown, see Ed Murray Throws Seattle Under the Train.

The only trust Ed Murray has earned is the lack of it.

Someone who's been commenting on this blog for years trying to call attention to Ed Murray's BS (go to to Search box and look up my handle and "Murray" some time for more)

P.S. Believe me, I'm no Mike McGinn apologist either. But at least with McGinn, I don't have to constantly question whether he's fighting on the same side.
Posted by cressona on April 25, 2013 at 11:32 AM · Report this
Elvis 14
Murray for Mayor 2013: Fuck Seattle's Transit Infrastructure, Let's Build Some More Highways!

Posted by Elvis on April 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Sounds like a good plan to me. Definitely better than the fake bus rapid transit mess which is all our current overlord gave us.
Posted by hazel7 on April 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 16
@14 you mean underwater highways.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Sounds like a good plan to me. Definitely better than the fake bus rapid transit mess which is all our current overlord gave us.
Posted by hazel13 on April 25, 2013 at 11:51 AM · Report this
Baconcat 18
@6: Lisa Brown was budget chair when the budget coup happened? And majority leader when the majority shifted?

Oh okay, glad to see Murray supporters owning up to this stuff.
Posted by Baconcat on April 25, 2013 at 11:51 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 19
You're losing me, man. Hard. I want someone willing to go to bloody war for Seattle interests, not a capitulation. Never give up; never surrender, or never getting my vote.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on April 25, 2013 at 11:52 AM · Report this
Timrrr 20
Funny... before the jump Murray doesn't even begin to talk about his supposed subject -- sub-area equity!

I couldn't be bothered to follow the jump because this alone told me everything I need to know about Murray's position(s); he's clearly more interested in telling you why he should be mayor than offering solutions and the reasoning behind those solutions. (Other than that he should be mayor)

If his writing style is any indication of his governing style, he's already lost my vote!
Posted by Timrrr on April 25, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Report this
For the record, this piece completely ignores STB's actual argument about why it's wrong to oppose subarea equity.

The ST board has a majority of members from the suburbs, and will continue to have such a majority until the end of time. Beyond that, the ST board has had a single-minded, tunnel-vision focus on "the spine" between Everett and Tacoma, the Seattle parts of which are already funded, and the remainder of which is entirely in the suburbs.

Thus, what little money the subarea equity policy requires ST to spend in Seattle will almost certainly be redirected to the suburbs if the policy is dropped. Yes, subarea equity is horrible policy in the abstract, but unfortunately it's the only thing protecting Seattle's interests in real life.
Posted by DAL on April 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this
Sub-area equity needs to go. Mayor McGinn needs to go. Good thing Burgess is completely irrelevant.
Posted by johnfb on April 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this
@15, I can see why this sounds like a good plan to you. Your understanding of RapidRide is a good indicator of your grasp of details on this stuff. FYI: RapidRide comes from Metro (not Sound Transit), which is a county agency, and it was proposed (and partially funded and designed) before McGinn had even announced a campaign for mayor.

But details, details...
Posted by grkle on April 25, 2013 at 11:58 AM · Report this
Martin H. Duke 24

In fairness, Murray wants to replace the ST board with a directly elected one, although it's difficult to see how that creates an organization laser-focused on construction in Seattle.
Posted by Martin H. Duke on April 25, 2013 at 11:59 AM · Report this
@15, I can see why this sounds like a good plan to you. Your understanding of RapidRide is a good indicator of your depth on transit issues. FYI: RapidRide comes from Metro (not Sound Transit), which is a county agency, and it was proposed (and partially funded and designed) before McGinn had even announced a campaign for mayor. Details, details...
Posted by grkle on April 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM · Report this
Wow. With all the attacks on Ed here, you wonder why anyone would ever go into public office. I happen to believe him. I've seen him accomplish a lot over the years. What he says here makes sense. The man knows transportation.
Posted by NotYourStrawMan on April 25, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Politicians are all about what "I" did. I guess those people that voted them in and donated thousands of dollars would be nowhere without them!
Posted by michael bell on April 25, 2013 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Though I do agree with almost everything Ed Murray says....

I'm still hoping Bruce does a little more to help his chances. No. 1 mistake was not contacting me to help with the campaign.
Posted by michael bell on April 25, 2013 at 12:11 PM · Report this
cressona 29
NotYourStrawMan @26: Wow. With all the attacks on Ed here, you wonder why anyone would ever go into public office. Yeah really, God forbid we plebians should stand up to our overlords. I wonder if you've ever used this sad, little ad hominem defense to stand up for Mike McGinn, considering all the attacks he's been taking. Or are we only allowed to disagree with the politicians that you disagree with?

I can't dispute one statement you made about Ed Murray: The man knows transportation. Kinda like Willie Sutton knew banks. That sadly is the problem.
Posted by cressona on April 25, 2013 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Baconcat 30
Did Ed ever fix the cost overrun provision or 520 funding?
Posted by Baconcat on April 25, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Report this
It's too bad this can't be an sctual debate about why we don't like subarea equity. Instead, it looks like a petty political shark attack. There needs to be more of a conversation than this "dense verse sprawl" debate. Having a consistant and robust rail system in Seattle helps the whole state. Stop pitting Seattle against the rest of Washington. We all understand this argument when it comes to taxation and distribution. When did all these Democrats become the party of, "I get to keep I what I make?"

Posted by AmandaLynn on April 25, 2013 at 1:58 PM · Report this
Ditching sub-area equity will ensure that Seattle tax dollars are spent building an endless procession of suburban Park & Rides, and that a Ballard line will never be built until every suburban city has a Link stop.
Posted by Lack Thereof on April 25, 2013 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Storbaker 33
I just love that Ed Murray says that he "...can bring all sides together, diffuse opposition, build a coalition..." He sure did that in the Senate; quite a coalition he built there.

Is he implying that he did that on purpose?

Posted by Storbaker on April 25, 2013 at 9:26 PM · Report this
I was looking forward to hearing what Ed Murray had to say about this. It is a complicated topic, and I hoped he would provide an articulate response to the issues raised by STB. Unfortunately, this is not an articulate response. He's so fixated on demonizing McGinn, he never gets around to addressing the specific questions that have been raised.

I have mixed feelings about McGinn, but Murray's attacks sound like exactly the same tune that we've heard from the anti-transit crowd (Gregoire, the Seatttle Times, etc). Not a good way to win the votes of transit supporters. Murray keeps shouting about how McGinn is 'divisive,' but all of the vitriol is coming from Murray.

I'm not all that enthusiastic about McGinn at this point (mainly because of the police accountability situation), and I had been considering voting for Murray. But Murray's response here hasn't been very inspiring.
Posted by monorail on April 25, 2013 at 10:36 PM · Report this
...while also ensuring that hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars are not diverted to building light rail in outlying areas where population densities are insufficient to support strong ridership.

Why would millions of taxpayer dollars be "diverted" to outlying areas, if the money spent in those areas had to come from those areas in the first place?

Is there some other definition of the word "divert" of which I'm not aware?
Posted by madcap on April 26, 2013 at 2:39 PM · Report this
So?Together,the Goppers and the Dems comprise the right third of the universal political spectrum. ----
Posted by 5th Columnist on April 26, 2013 at 4:46 PM · Report this
god,,, arrgghgh.. fuck... just SHUT UP.... you go on and on and on and on and on and on and you say NOTHING IMPORTANT..... SOUND TRANSIT IS OVER PRICED, UNWANTED AND A HUGE HUGE RIP OFF......
Posted by lifegoals on April 26, 2013 at 10:20 PM · Report this
Apostate! Stone him!
Posted by arrrgh on April 29, 2013 at 12:50 PM · Report this
From out here in out of the sub-areas, Sound Transit looks like a mechanism for hoovering up tax dollars and diverting them into Seattle. Furthermore, Sound Transit rail projects out to the Eastside have the look and feel of a system intended only to feed commuters and shoppers into downtown Seattle. The designs appear to be intentionally crippled to hinder commuting between various suburban locations. Seattle isn't the Center of the Universe anymore. The daily commutes reversed over a decade ago. The only reason the I-90 reversible lanes haven't been switched is because nobody wants to anger Mercer Island.

While a strict sub-area equity is certainly not the best way to manage complex transit funding issues, there doesn't appear to be any alternative proposed that reassures the sub-area taxpayers that they aren't just being milked to fund Seattle's internal transportation needs.

You folks had a perfectly good transit solution to serve West Seattle and Ballard and you shot it down. Forgive me if I don't shed tears over your delayed rail projects.

Posted by EastSideCommuter on April 29, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
Frank Blethen's vodka distiller 40
Hey Ed

The sub area equity train left the station long time ago. Nice of you to oppose it but you're not going to change it.
Posted by Frank Blethen's vodka distiller on April 30, 2013 at 10:22 AM · Report this
Sub-area equity got South King County to pay for YOUR light rail to the airport. You dump your airplane pollution (air and noise) on us southies, who fly lots less than you, and then WE have to pay to get you here so you don't have to shell out for parking. We were supposed to get 5 stations in South King County and 8 miles of track under the original taxing proposal, but got only one station and 6 miles of track; now the politicos are boasting that the 3rd station will be built "early" - 2016 - and media play along, while it was supposed to be built by 2005, a billion dollars ago.

Sound Transit is definitely a scam, and they steal money from whomever then can get it. It's all about taking money from the public; a 10% profit on that much construction enables the contractors to cut some very fat checks to their friends in office. The first vote in 1995 failed, so they focus grouped and polled their way to constructing a proposal that would pass, never mind that both the promised tax amount and project size were lies constructed to fit what people said they would vote for.

You Seattle folks wouldn't have gotten the suburbs' votes, or tax dollars, at all if supposed sub-area equity wasn't part of the deal. Consider yourselves lucky you got what you did from us, and keep your thieving hands to yourselves in the future. Right now we get half the bus service per capita from Metro that you do, despite all paying the same for it, and the fact there are more seats occupied on the average South County bus than on the average Seattle (West Subarea) bus. Not that Metro will tell you that - they have jiggered the metrics so a two block ride downtown has the same value as a twenty-mile commute ride. They also use larger-than-necessary buses in the burbs to reduce seat utilization percentage, which is more important in their accounting system than the number of people on the bus. You won't give us bus service so we eat your lunch in the legislature, siphoning off way too much funding for roads because we don't have bus service. Give us some bus service and we'll need less for roads.
Posted by memory man on May 2, 2013 at 7:07 PM · Report this

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