The Puget Sound region made a big step forward in transportation and the state advanced the condition of low-wage workers.
I know, I know, election fatigue is high. But we need to close out this cycle with an examination of the economic effects of three regional and statewide measures.
The most important is the passage of Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion initiative to add 62 miles and 37 stations of light rail by 2041, as well as more commuter trains and bus lines. Light rail would eventually stretch from Everett to Tacoma.
This will be an enormous infrastructure investment, adding construction and operating jobs. More important in the long term, it will give people options about how they travel as freeways and roads become maxed out. It will improve productivity — people can work while riding a train — and sanity.
It also will attract transit-oriented development, with residential and commercial projects located conveniently along the lines as the region continues to grow.
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A critical effect is that ST3 will connect more affordable residential areas in the South Sound and Snohomish County with employment centers in Seattle and on the Eastside.
With ST3, the region begins to make up for the horrendous mistakes in 1968 and 1970, when voters turned down a rail rapid- transit system that would have been funded two-thirds by the federal government. (You can ride it today, but in Atlanta on MARTA).
Election Day was a big win for transit on the West Coast. In addition to ST3, Los Angeles voters approved a measure to invest $121?billion to expand light rail and bus rapid transit, as well as road projects.
ST3 comes with an ominous asterisk. Although it will be funded locally by property, sales and car-tab taxes, we likely can’t expect help in speeding things up from the federal government. Although not on the magnitude of 1960s funding, Obama administration TIGER grants have helped transit projects around the country.
That’s likely gone. Although President-elect Trump (wow, still wow) has expressed support for improving passenger trains and building high-speed rail, he will encounter resistance from the Republican-controlled Congress.
Opposition to rail is an article of deep principle for most Republicans. Amtrak will be in a fight for its life. Don’t be surprised if Congress tries to erect new barriers to local transit efforts.
Washington voters also approved raising the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020.
I-1433 was the most direct effort to take a whack at rising inequality in a state with widespread resistance to a progressive income tax. The statewide minimum wage is now $9.47 an hour.
Since the 1980s, increasing numbers of middle-wage jobs have been lost to automation and offshoring. That has left many people who once held those positions hanging on in low-paying jobs.
The initiative is not as ambitious as Seattle’s step-up to $15 an hour. The rest of the state is not as prosperous as Seattle, and $13.50 probably provides the best balance between improving pay and avoiding large-scale job losses or automation as a response by business.
This won’t resolve inequality, not by a longshot. Most comprehensive responses would have to come on the national level. Yet with Republicans controlling all branches of government, it’s unlikely they would take action. In GOP dogma, inequality is inevitable and government efforts to balance the scales destroy individual initiative and reward malingerers.
Carbon will keep malingering in the global commons called the atmosphere. Under a national government that denies mainstream climate science, it will likely get much worse.
A modest effort to tax carbon here in Washington, I-732, was crushed at the ballot box.
The Office of Financial Management was concerned that it would hurt state revenues by making the tax “revenue neutral.” In other words, any new revenue would be offset by tax breaks. (Yoram Bauman, the economist who helped author the measure, argued that the state’s contention was false).
Some environmental groups attacked the measure for not going far enough, arguing that its proceeds should be invested in clean energy and to address inequality. It was the classic progressive circular firing squad.
About the best that can be said is that I-732 might have been the camel’s nose under the tent of pricing carbon, hence keeping more of it in the ground. For many, it was too modest. And for the fossil-fuel interests, it was an abomination that shouldn’t exist at all.
One state alone can’t stop rising emissions in the atmosphere, which are extracting an ever-increasing economic, social and geopolitical toll. But it can be a model for others, and, perhaps if one day power shifts in the Other Washington, for the nation.
I-732, however, probably wasn’t that model. Another carbon tax that could gather greater support is needed. And time is not on our side.
This was the most consequential election in modern American history.
The Puget Sound region made a big step forward in transportation and the state advanced the condition of low-wage workers. For blue Washington, this will be too little and too slow. For the red Washington across the Cascades, and the large red stretches between there and that other Washington, it is too fast and in the wrong direction. Such are our divisions.