Friday, March 9, 2012

State Provides Some Transit Funding, Defers Bigger Decision

The State Legislature ended its regular session late last night without reaching a decision on a supplemental operating budget. Technically, they don’t have to since it’s not a budget year, but since the state is some $500 million in the red, it’s better to have a plan where to cut that spending than not. So, Gov. Gregoire is calling legislators into a special session beginning Monday, March 12.

Transit’s biggest funding bill, which would provide counties a local option for motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET) that could go to transit and transportation projects, did not pass despite making it out of a House-Senate conference committee earlier this week. However, Gregoire has indicated that this is one of the issues she would like to see revisited in the special session, so there’s still a chance.

That bill, ESSB 6582, was amended in conference committee to give counties authority to ask voter approval of up to a one percent MVET. The counties would need to work with cities and transit to come up with a plan that benefits all parties. There are many what-ifs in this scenario, but it represents the best chance for substantive funding that could be used to restore some lost transit service.

Stay tuned for more on that bill.

Meanwhile, two other measures did pass that will benefit Community Transit. A “fees” bill that raises several fees like vehicle license plates, driver record abstracts, etc. was approved. Proceeds will primarily benefit the Washington State Ferries, but some money has been set aside for transit agencies. Based on the funding plan, Community Transit would expect to receive about $580,000 this year, and slightly more each of the next two years, pending legislative approval in 2013. Compare that with the $12 million in service we cut last month and you can see it is not a lot in service terms, but we are grateful for any funding we get at this point.

Community Transit also received a $100,000 transportation budget line item (thanks to Rep. Marko Liias) to help fund an alternatives analysis on where a second Swift line should go. This project will help us gather information as a requirement for federal funding for that Swift line. The bigger question there is whether we will be able to get those federal funds to start that project, given the debate over transit funding in Congress.