Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gregoire Vetos Transit Bill

Joe Turner of The News Tribune reported today on Governor Gregoire's veto of a bill that would have provided more funding for transit agencies to effectively respond to growing transit ridership.

On the TNT's Political Buzz blog Turner wrote:

Supporters of public transit are none too happy with Gov. Chris Gregoire after she decided earlier this month to veto a provision to make it easier for transit agencies to collect more taxes from the public.

That includes the sponsor of the transit-funding proposal, Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington.
"Gregoire is such a major disappointment," Simpson said in an e-mail last week, right after the governor vetoed a portion of Senate Bill 5433. "While she is chauffered around in her black limo and on her private airplane, people who can't afford a car will be struggling to find a ride on a bus. No problem for her though. Sad."

The provision that Gregoire vetoed would have allowed transit boards to ask voters to raise their vehicle registration fees by as much as $20 a year to pay for bus service. The governor said local governments already have that authority. Besides, she added, she didn't want the Legislature to get ahead of itself. The budget provides money to conduct a study on alternative sources of transportation funding, she noted.

Transit advocates say those reasons are pretty lame.

Although it's true local governments can create transportation benefit districts and raise up to $100 per vehicle (with a public vote) those are for mostly for cities and counties, and the process is cumbersome.

"It is nearly useless for transit," Simpson said.

Andrew Austin, policy associate for Transportation Choices Coalition, said transit agencies are seeing their sales tax collections decline just as the demand for bus service is rising.

It's also ironic that Gregoire would issue an executive order to push ahead with policies aimed at reducing how much people drive -- vehicle miles traveled -- while cutting options for transit, he said.

"Reducing VMT per capital is going to be hard to do without more transit, and transit service is falling off a cliff because of decreasing funding," he said.

The thrust of SB 5433 was to give cities and counties more flexibility in how they use their existing sales and property taxes, basically letting them use the money to avoid laying off existing workers instead of having to hire brand-new workers.

Gregoire appears to be at leasts partially accommodating Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Haugen and Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, both voted against the bill and later urged the governor to veto those parts. They cited the very reasons that Gregoire did in her veto.

The governor left intact a another transit provision, one that will let the King County Council raise as much as 7.5 cents per $1,000 in property values to provide as much as $30 million a year for Metro Transit. That tax increase could be done without a public vote.

This is the answer I got from Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, when I asked him whether the governor had vetoed just the $20-per-vehicle tax for transit or the property tax for King County Metro Transit, or both.

Simpson sponsored the language that would have made it easier for transit districts to raise money for bus service, with a public vote.

She vetoed just the $20 congestion reduction tax. She cited the TBD (transit benefit district) as a reason and a study of future transportation funding options as her reason. The $20 voter approved tax was the only hope to stem large cuts in service across the state. Because of the way the TBD statute is written, it is nearly useless for transit. Not only is the money not dedicated to transit in TBD, to enact it requires a huge degree of cooperation among counties and cities and little financial reward for that cooperation. It's why there are no TBDs in the state. The transportation funding study doesn't mention transit and was meant for roads only. Attached is her veto message.

Here is the governor's veto message.

Here is the letter in which Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and Chris Marr, D-Spokane, urge the governor to veto the transit provisions.

Here is the final bill report on Senate Bill 5433, which includes the effect of the governor's veto.

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