The campaign for Sound Transit 3 holds a huge fundraising lead over its opponents, because of employers that want transit and companies that want contracts.
Campaigners for this fall’s Sound Transit ballot measure have raised 10 times as much money as their opponents, thanks to companies and groups that could benefit.
These include not only engineering firms, contractors and labor unions that earn income from infrastructure projects, but famed Seattle-area corporations whose workers would ride light rail, Sounder trains and buses.
And $100,000 was reported last week from philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation for worldwide health and development sits near a proposed Sound Transit 3 station at Seattle Center.
Proposition 1’s leading cash donors: Mass Transit Now
Business: Microsoft, $300,000; Expedia, $150,000; Amazon, $110,000; Costco Wholesale and Vulcan, $100,000 each.
Unions: Laborers Union $210,000; International Union of Operating Engineers, $150,000; Sheet Metal Workers Local 66, $75,000; Building and Construction Trades councils, $70,000.
Contractors: Washington Engineers PAC, $100,000; AECOM and JCM Northlink, $75,000 each; HNTB, $73,000; Parsons Brinckerhoff, $62,000.
No on ST3
• “Families for Sustainable Transit” committee (Kemper Holdings, King County Republican Central Committee, Bruce McCaw, Wallace Properties), $302,000.
• Chuck Collins, Bruce Hand, Save Our Trail (Kirkland) and Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace, $1,000 each.
Source: Public Disclosure Commission data as of Oct. 20.
As of Friday, Mass Transit Now had attracted $3.41 million in cash, compared with $315,663 for No on ST3.
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Transit-board Chairman Dow Constantine, who is King County executive, lauded the big donors and endorsements during a CityClub debate:
“Business, labor, community, social-justice leaders, environmental leaders across our region, are on board with this. They understand the need, whether it’s Alaska Airlines, or Costco, or the state Labor Council, or the Bellevue City Council, or the Bellevue Downtown Association. Are they all wrong? Is that possible, that all the business leaders in the Seattle community are wrong?”
Joe Rosmann, an ST3 opponent who is tracking the money, acknowledges 62 more miles of light rail would serve employees at firms like Microsoft, the top donor at $300,000. But an unfair burden would fall on areas where homeowners and small businesses wouldn’t get much use from trains, Rosmann said.
“The public needs to understand that the politics of mass transit is purposely seeking the support of a few major employers,” said Rosmann, whose neighborhood south of downtown Bellevue raised questions about tracks and construction near their homes.
The measure appears as “Sound Transit Proposition No. 1,” on ballots mailed last week to voters in urban King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8.
Online travel company Expedia, a $150,000 donor, will move from downtown Bellevue to Seattle’s Interbay, which is poorly situated for car commutes but would be served by a proposed Smith Cove light-rail station.
Costco gave $100,000 and would benefit from a Central Issaquah station, in 2041.
Microsoft seeks to reduce drive-alone commutes, and said 10 percent of its 43,000 local employees use public transit, 11 percent ride the company’s Connector buses, and 21 percent van pool, carpool, bike or walk.
“Light rail will provide more options for commuters. It represents an important infrastructure upgrade that will help maintain a high quality of life in the Puget Sound Region and support our growing economy,” said a statement from Irene Plenefisch, government-affairs director.
Based on donation size, it looks like businesses were solicited based on how many employees will use rail transit, said Rosmann.
James Canning, spokesman for Mass Transit Now, said he won’t discuss campaign strategy, but that companies see value in transit to attract and retain talent.
Microsoft, for example, previously agreed to pay $33?million for a pedestrian bridge at Overlake Transit Center, where light-rail service is already scheduled for 2023. Also, Amazon bought a $5.5 million streetcar for more-frequent service passing its Seattle campus.
The “yes” campaign received a total $550,000 from 15 companies that each won at least a half-million dollars in Sound Transit business from 2008 to spring 2016, a Seattle Times analysis found.
Money spent to promote a big, new infrastructure program is a shrewd investment. Those 15 companies won $978 million in contracts and could compete for more in open bidding.
JCM Northlink, the joint venture that is now tunneling from Husky Stadium to Northgate under a $446?million contract, contributed $75,000.
The engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff — which also did preliminary design for the Highway 99 tunnel — has won $104?million in Sound Transit contracts since 2008 and gave $62,000 this year toward ST3. Also significant, only 6?percent of its employees drive alone to downtown Seattle.
Train builder Siemens, of Sacramento, Calif., which recently won a $554 million contract to build 122 railcars for already approved lines, gave $50,000. This follows two bus manufacturers that each gave $25,000 last year to a Community Transit sales-tax campaign in Snohomish County.
Jobs are on the ballot.
One-fourth of campaign dollars come from labor, led by $210,000 from Laborers Union organizations.
Typically, 3,000 to 4,000 union construction workers are on Sound Transit jobs, said Nicole Grant, executive secretary of the M.L. King County Labor Council.
Proposition 1 would support the equivalent of 78,000 workers for a year, Sound Transit says, using state models for the 25-year build out.
Grant, an electrician, said she managed to keep her home in the last recession through transit jobs, such as wiring ticket machines.
“This is like a once-in-a-quarter-century opportunity for workers in the Puget Sound area to vote on something which actually improves our lives,” she said.
The top funder for opponents is Kemper Freeman, developer of Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and two hotels, at $210,000, or two-thirds of all the No on ST3 money. Freeman has long promoted car travel, by building and promoting free parking for shoppers, and he has endorsed lane additions to I-405. He’s even suggested an I-605 east of Sammamish, or a Seattle I-5 tunnel.
Sotelopoints to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary education-funding ruling, which could trigger higher property-tax levies in many suburbs, as a reason to vote no. “At some point you have to go, ‘How much in taxes do we have to give? When are we going to max out?’?”