More COVID-19 relief. Help with the West Seattle Bridge and Sound Transit light rail. An end to President Donald Trump’s attempts to crack down on immigrants and abortions. More electric buses.
Those are some impacts President-elect Joe Biden’s administration could have in King County and Washington state, local leaders said after the race was called this past weekend.
“This is an incredibly important thing for the city of Seattle,” Mayor Jenny Durkan told reporters in a video call Saturday, mentioning attempts by President Trump to restrict federal funding to Seattle over political disagreements on immigration enforcement, protests and policing.
“I think we’ll see some immediate changes,” she added, calling on Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to swiftly reunite migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border and address systemic racism.
Who controls the U.S. Senate will matter, too, and that isn’t yet clear, local leaders noted. Large cities like Seattle need Congress to pass another COVID-19 economic relief package, so they can continue to help workers and small businesses rocked by the pandemic, Durkan said, also calling on Washington, D.C., to ensure that health care workers have enough personal protective equipment as cases surge.
“The result of this election means we have a federal partner who’s committed in the fight against COVID-19,” the mayor said, adding, “Our small businesses and workers are still struggling.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how the election result might affect Seattle’s response to a long-running homelessness crisis. But Durkan did say a White House occupied by Biden and Harris — both of whom have served as senators — could help cities access more resources for infrastructure projects, such as repairing or replacing the West Seattle Bridge. The mayor has been waiting to decide what to do about the busy span, which closed in March due to dangerous cracks.
Even with Biden’s election, the city probably can’t count on the feds to underwrite a $47 million repair project. But the city could qualify for help with a $400 million effort to replace the bridge’s damaged section.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, a West Seattle resident, already has joined online meetings with neighborhood leaders and even discussed the need for bridge help on the House floor. The government has largely banished earmarks, so the likely solution may be a huge national infrastructure plan where projects compete on merits, like the TIGER program created by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., or money is spread equitably among all 50 states.
In an interview Saturday, Jayapal said she expected Congress to pass bipartisan COVID-19 relief and infrastructure packages in fairly short order. The details will depend on who controls the Senate, she said, which will be decided by two January runoff elections in Georgia.
An infrastructure package could include funding not only for the West Seattle Bridge but also for the Magnolia Bridge and First Avenue Bridge, Jayapal said.
“Infrastructure has always been a very bipartisan issue and one that actually wins a lot of votes in Democratic and Republican districts, because there are needs in every district in America,” she said.
Durkan intends to speak with the Biden-Harris team about the West Seattle Bridge as soon as possible, she said. The mayor intends to talk to Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., next week.
“I want [Murray and Cantwell] to raise it, as well,” she said. “They know Joe Biden very well. They know him from their work in the Senate. They worked with him in the Obama administration. They’re powerhouses in Washington, D.C. … I think you’re going to see improved relations between Congress and the president.”
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said he expects the new administration to advance a more responsible health care policy.
The Trump administration barred health clinics that receive federal Title X funding from providing or even referring patients for abortions. That caused local Planned Parenthoods to withdraw from the Title X program, forfeiting millions of dollars.
“It’s really interfering with our ability to deliver a full range of reproductive health care for our residents,” Dembowski said.
The council member also mentioned issues related to refugees and the environment as areas where the Biden-Harris administration should prove “more consistent with our local values.”
“Environmentally, there’s just been an erosion and an attack and an unwinding of work around climate change and water quality and protecting the Puget Sound, protecting our rivers and lakes and streams,” Dembowski said. “All of that stuff gets better.”
Biden’s win could improve the Seattle region’s chances of winning dollars for light rail. While the feds have continued to send highway money and large light-rail grants to Washington state, even under a Republican administration, local Democrats think things can move faster.
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff last month hoped a possible $375 million boost in a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill would ease his agency’s financial strains from the COVID-19 recession. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House but stalled in the Senate.
That sort of bill would take pressure off the Seattle area’s massive ST3 light-rail build out, which might face a $1 billion gap next year. It also could prop up operating budgets at King County Metro and nine other Puget Sound-area transit agencies, who already got $538 million this year in bipartisan aid.
Again, the outcome may hinge on what happens in the Senate elections. But in an interview Saturday, Rogoff was optimistic. Sound Transit’s Lynnwood and Federal Way light-rail extension projects in particular could win money, he said.
“From our perspective it’s hard to say the future is anything but brighter, given where we’ve been and where we’re headed,” he said.
Metro gets about 80% of its funding to buy new buses from the federal government, Dembowski said, suggesting a Democratic administration could accelerate the electrification of the agency’s bus fleet.
More directly, Biden’s affection for and longtime ridership of Amtrak trains bodes well for the passenger railroad winning cash. October’s House bill proposed $2.4 billion for Amtrak, which has been hemorrhaging riders in Washington state, down 88% to 2,794 riders last Sunday, compared to pre-COVID levels.
The region hasn’t managed yet to reopen its new line from Lakewood to Nisqually, nearly three years after a derailment killed three rail buffs and injured dozens on that route’s inaugural trip.
When Rogoff worked for Congress and the Federal Transit Administration, Biden “never hesitated to be up in our face” about railroad funding, Rogoff said.
In a statement Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee said Biden and Harris would “lead a strong and science-based approach to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding our economy.” He also said they would “expand access to health care for Washingtonians,” while protecting clean air and water.
Inslee, who made combating climate change his rallying cry in his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, believes the next White House will take “bold action to defeat the climate crisis,” he said.
In a Friday night interview on CNN, Inslee said Biden’s climate-change policies had shown “tremendous growth” since last year’s Dem debates.
Asked on CNN whether he would consider a position in the Biden-Harris administration, the governor replied: “I am committed to this job. We got a great state. And my grandkids are here.”
Durkan served as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington under President Barack Obama. Asked whether she would consider a position in new administration and whether she had been approached, spokesperson Kelsey Nyland emailed: “The Mayor is focused on serving the people of Seattle and working with the Biden-Harris administration on the city’s toughest challenges.”