Most observers believe that additional Sound Transit taxing authority is inevitably attached to the larger state transportation package. However, some intrepid legislators have sponsored a standalone bill that provide enough capacity, given voter approval, to fund a substantial amount of new light rail. Were this bill were to somehow avoid the shoals of the process, it would separate the region’s self-funded transit needs from the ongoing debate about statewide taxes and highway spending.
The Senate Bill is SB 5128, and its counterpart is HB 1180. The Republican-controlled Senate is generally perceived to be the main obstacle to passage, obviously. In the Senate there are currently 20 sponsors, leaving it five short of a majority, which are all among the 24 Democrats.
These sponsors include every Democratic senator that represents part of the Sound Transit District, save Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah/North Bend), who told me via email that “Nobody asked me to sign the legislation but I do support it.”
The three other Democrats are outside of the ST District: James Hargrove (D-Port Angeles), Brian Hatfield (D-Aberdeen), and Tim Sheldon (D-Shelton)*. I have not yet asked them about their position.
The Democratic votes are not only insufficient on the floor, but by exercising next to no leverage on Transportation Chair Curtis King (Yakima), they cannot bring such a bill to a vote. That is not true of the Republican members who represent part of the ST District. I emailed Sens. Andy Hill (R-Kirkland/Duvall/Sammamish), Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island/Newcastle/Bellevue), Joe Fain (R-Covington/Auburn), Pam Roach (R-Sumner/Enumclaw), Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way), Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup/Fife), and Steve O’Ban (R-University Place/Ft.Lewis) to ask their position. Not one bothered to reply over the span of a week.
These seven senators — a few of whom are likely to have Light Rail or other major transit projects actually in their district in ST3 — are the center of gravity for such a bill. If you are a resident of any of these districts (check here), a handful of constituent emails and/or phone calls could make a big difference. If you are not, a note of thanks to your Senator (and a reminder to your House members to support HB 1180) is a gesture of often underestimated importance.
Furthermore, for the Olympia-inclined the House Transportation Committee will take up 1180 on January 28th at 3:30pm.
* Sen. Sheldon caucuses with the Republicans.