IT'S NOW OFFICIAL: Even Gov. Gary Locke loves the monorail.
The stage was set for the governor to demonstrate his affection for rubber-tired elevated transportation when the state Legislature passed a bill granting Seattle voters the right to tax themselves silly to build a monorail from West Seattle to Ballard. Unfortunately for monorail lovers, the bill contained a big blooper and an evil scheme. The blooper was a section that said Seattle voters must approve the new monorail plan twice. The evil scheme was contained in a section written by state Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, who wanted the fate of the Seattle monorail expansion firmly shackled to regional voters' approval of many new highway projects, including the expansion of I-405.
Late last week, Locke used his veto power to eliminate the troublesome sections and then signed the monorail- financing bill into law.
It is hard to overstate this achievement. Seattle's ability to tax itself is very constrained by state lawmakers. Suburban and rural conservatives are leery of letting Sodom on the Sound indulge in our free-spending ways lest the contagion spread to the rest of the state.
This year, the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), the group charged with putting a monorail plan before the voters, made its first effort to get taxing authority from the state Legislature. "Generally a bill takes three to five years to pass," says state Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle. Legislators "have to sniff it and pee on it, and then it starts moving." This year's legislative session was only 60 days and was packed full of acrimony due to twin crises: a $1.6 billion budget shortfall and transportation plan gridlock. The odds were terrible, but the monorail succeeded anyway. "This one has some magic to it," says Jacobsen, laughing.
Next up, the monorail must hone its cost estimate—currently $1 billion to $2 billion—and decide what mix of taxes to present to Seattle voters in November. The Legislature authorized a smorgasbord of taxes. The ETC is seriously considering a couple of taxes on vehicles as well as a property tax. "Now people will start checking their pocketbooks," says the ETC's Ed Stone.
George Howland Jr.