Saturday, February 15, 2014

State Transportation Funding Back in the News

With the announcement this week of a state Senate Majority Coalition Caucus transportation funding proposal, it is once more a possibility that transit could receive new funding this year.

The announcement, by Sen. Curtis King, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, with Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and other supporters at this side, falls short of the funding level for transit included in a House package. But the good news was the announcement itself. Without Senate support, new state transportation funding appeared dead this year.

Sens. King and Tom both said that they want to re-open negotiations with Senate and House Democrats and that they hope to approve a package during this legislative session, which is scheduled to end on March 18.

The Senate proposal includes a local option that would allow Community Transit to go to voters to seek additional sales tax funding for bus service. Without legislative authority, Community Transit cannot seek any new local funding. This local option is similar to the one included in the House package and could generate enough funding to substantially increase bus service in Snohomish County.

Overall, the Senate proposal does not include significant funding for Community Transit beyond the local option. Frankly, neither does the House package. If a local option does not pass, Community Transit's portion of either funding package will be enough to pay for "schedule maintenance," but not much new bus service.

There are roads projects in both proposals that will benefit transit users, and could help to make transit operations more efficient. But there are enough differences between the House and Senate proposals that it is not time for celebration yet, Differences over the use of sales tax for state road construction projects and policy reforms are among the issues that could prevent adoption this session.

Still, there is hope that a funding package could pass. What is likely the best scenario for Community Transit riders is that a local option will be approved by the Legislature, then the issue of increased transit funding truly becomes a local decision.