Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remarkably Sparse

Mr. Hunter,
Though this bill [HB 3027] in its current form is remarkably sparse, I do have the strangest feeling that I will support its eventual contents. It appears that there is a broad group of sponsors appearing on a series of bills having to do with hotel taxes. Good luck recovering the state's tax credit, and moving this ball forward.

Mike Baker
Seattle, WA
[edited with an update below]

Ok, maybe I am losing my mind, or not, but the Senate companion bill to HB 3027 is SB 6684. That bill is just as sparse, and is scheduled for Executive Session on Monday, 2/1/2010. Stay with me here, are they going to bother to have a hearing, take testimony, and, ah, put some actual text in the bill before they vote on it in Executive Session?

Feb 1  Scheduled for executive session in the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Trade & Innovation at 1:30 PM. (Subject to change)

Mmmm, let's hope they at least go through the motions.
I am wanting to know what happens to the Washington State Convention Center (they dropped "Trade" from their name last week).

[2/2/2010 edit]
SB 6684 was sent to Rules Committee, no update to the bill text. Poof!

[2/2/2010 edit]
SB 6684 was referred to Senate Ways & Means Committee, still empty, still waiting for the negotiations to spell out what will end up in this bill.

What's the big rush?

[2/3/2010 edit 2]
And then SB 6684 was set to the side, SB 6118, last year's Senate Convention Center bill, was scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee tomorrow. There is an amendment and table in the House Finance Committee electronic book.

Looks like the Convention Center will expand, after some fancy book keeping.

[2/4/2010 edit, last edit]
It looks like the "city" will, indeed, be able to apply a 2% tax on hotels, according to new Section 3 of the amended SB 6118.
Wow! So, it looks like the state takes back its tax credit, give Seattle the authority to apply and collect 2% the state was collecting. The city becomes the tax funding authority for the Convention Center expansion. It looks like we will have another Convention Center, as soon as this bill passes and the state avoids court action.

Friday, January 29, 2010

This could be a little better

The following message was sent to Representative Ross Hunter (D) of the 48th district.
TO:   Representative Ross Hunter
FROM:   Mr. Michael Baker
EMAIL:   [edit]
PHONE:   [edit]
BILL:   2912 (For)
SUBJECT:   This could be a little better
MESSAGE:   Mr. Hunter,
I am pleased to see this bill taking another run at this problem. Last year's HB 2252 was too "prescriptive", and died in the form of SB6116. This year we have HB 2912 / SB 6661 that look very much like SB6116.

One thing missing from this year's effort is language that isolates the rest of King County from Seattle, or provides some formula that prevents Seattle from taking or giving up too much. I am also worried that the money kept out of Seattle will not get spread around to fund infrastructure in smaller communities because the wording in Section 8 leaves so much of what the funds could be spent on up to cash strapped King County.
I guess I am back to some kind of formula.

Will there be an amendment to the bill to tighten up the language to address the responsibility, authrority, and equity, in allocating the revenue?
Thank you for your time, and effort,

Mike Baker
RESPONSE:   Mr. Baker has requested a response to this message.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where does the rest of the money go? ...and the remainder of the revenues must be deposited in the affordable housing account

Thursday, January 28th, 2010, 8 am, in the Washington State House Finance Committee HB 2912 is scheduled for public hearing. The current bill title, Modifying local excise taxes in counties that have pledged lodging tax revenues for the payment of bonds prior to June 26, 1975., doesn't really say what is gong on with this bill.

What do the taxes fund now?
Safeco Field, the forgotten rubble that was the King Dome, bits of Qwest Field.

Where do the taxes come from?
You, you dope. Well, mostly King County wide hotel tax, parking taxes at Safeco Field, with a little bit of car rental taxes mixed in.

Why now?
These taxes could start to expire and close at the end of this year or possible during the next legislative session next year. An existing tax can be redirected by majority vote of both legislative houses. If they were to allow those taxes to close then you are looking at the possibility of a 60% majority needed for a new tax. Even if that 60% is knocked back down to 50% (+1), the chances of creating a new tax anytime soon is very unlikely.

There is an oddity in that Safeco Field will not need the taxes it is using right now when the bonds are paid off, but in about 5 years the stadium will turn 20 (I know, feels like yesterday) and the lease with the Mariners will end. I distinctly remember Joe Zarelli saying something about a year ago about not having the Mariners in a "Sonics" type situation in a couple of years. The public has an investment and we need to maintain it.

So, aren't there more important things we should be spending this non-general fund money on between now and the end of the Mariner's lease?
Well, yes, but let's not forget that there are businesses that carry this tax on top of there prices that could put them at a competitive disadvantage, so, there should be a little secondary benefit somewhere along the way.
First let's look at a significant want, and a real need:
On and after the date the debt on the stadium is retired, and through December 31, 2015, one-half of the revenues under this section in a county of one million five hundred thousand or more must be deposited in the arts and cultural account under (d)(i) of this subsection, and the remainder of the revenues must be deposited in the affordable housing account under (d)(ii) of this subsection.
Arts and Cultural accounts are, as you may have guessed, not getting much from the state, county, or city, general funds. Maybe they shouldn't, and maybe this makes more sense as art of a longer term solution.

The affordable housing part is a obvious need. Seattle voters approved an "affordable housing" levy last Fall. Trying to get the rest of King County to step up to that right now is a near impossible task. So, specifically, here is the what is meant by affordable housing.
(ii) At least thirty-seven and one-half percent of the revenues shall be deposited in an affordable housing account for the purposes of distributions to nonprofit organizations or public housing authorities for affordable workforce housing near or at transit stations. For the purposes of this section, "affordable workforce housing" means housing for a single person, family, or unrelated persons living together whose income is at or below one hundred twenty percent of the median income, adjusted for household size, for the county where the housing is located.
(iii) The balance of the revenues must be deposited in a special purposes account under section 8 of this act.
Affordable housing, you can't be serious. . . unless you're Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp.

In addition, LaBorde said, TCC may take advantage of the fact that House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) has expressed support for allowing local governments to use their hotel/motel taxes for housing. King County’s hotel/motel tax is currently paying off bonds on Seattle’s downtown stadiums; that money will become available for other purposes in 2016. LaBorde suggested that TCC might support spending some of that money on affordable housing near transit stations—one of the major goals of last year’s transit-oriented communities bill, which would have increased density around light rail stops.
Erica C. Barnett,
at, Things Don’t Look Good for Transit Next Year, 12/04/2009.

Section 8 of the bill is a laundry list of things, such as the eventual repairs to Safeco Field:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 8. A new section is added to chapter 67.28 RCW to read as follows:
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, money deposited in a special purposes account under this section may be used only for one or more of the following purposes within the county:
(a) Funding nonprofit organizations providing public health services;
(b) Funding nonprofit organizations providing human service programs;
(c) Funding tourism promotion as defined in RCW 67.28.080;
(d) Funding youth or amateur sports activities or facilities; (e) Funding regional centers; (f) Funding performing arts centers;
(g) Maintaining or improving publicly owned stadiums or arenas as long as improvements can be made without economic harm to existing tenants of those stadiums or arenas; or
(h) Funding community preservation and development authorities created in chapter 43.167 RCW.
(2) Beginning in calendar year 2013, funding must be provided annually in an amount necessary to maintain a stadium constructed by a public facilities district under the authority of RCW 36.100.035.

This legislation lived and died last session as HB 2252, and SB 6116. This time around it has a heavy "affordable housing" element that should provide broader support.
The bill ten sponsors appear to provide a united front, Sponsors: Representatives Quall, Carlyle, O'Brien, Ericks, Dunshee, Sullivan, Blake, Jacks, Hunter, Maxwell

Many hands make light work.

Best of luck to you Ross Hunter.

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WSDOT: Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program News

Great news, the project is still very close last year's estimate.

Bad news, Surface Option proponents, the tunnel is still the plan.

Change in scope was the primary reason for the $60 million dollar increase: Adding 640 feet to the tunnel; changing where itboth start and ends.

How will the tunnel haters twist this?

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

Sent from my iPhone
Visit me here:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Alaskan Way Viaduct
Date: January 19, 2010 3:52:01 PM PST
To: (me)
Subject: Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program News

View online version.

Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program News

January 19, 2010   

Today WSDOT released an updated cost estimate and tolling study (pdf 2.4 Mb) for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. This report, requested by the Legislature, shows that the cost estimate to replace the viaduct remains within its $3.1 billion budget, and that it is feasible to generate $400 million in toll funding for the replacement.

Updated cost estimate shows viaduct replacement remains within budget
Last year, when the legislature endorsed a bored tunnel as its preferred option for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, they directed WSDOT to provide updated cost estimates for the viaduct replacement, including the proposed bored tunnel. After extensive cost and risk workshops, value engineering and design changes, we released the updated estimate this week.

We determined that the cost estimate to replace the viaduct remains within the $3.1 billion replacement budget, which includes $2.4 billion raised from existing state and federal sources and no more than $400 million raised from tolling the proposed bored tunnel. An additional $300 million is committed from the Port of Seattle.

The estimated cost for the bored tunnel increased by $60 million, to $1.96 billion; this increase, however, was offset by savings elsewhere, including design improvements for the south end viaduct replacement. Changes made to the proposed tunnel’s design in December, which included new north and south portal locations; resulting in a lengthening of the tunnel, with an overall increase of 640 feet. These changes also addressed significant risks identified during our estimating process. For example, we moved the south end of the tunnel away from Pioneer Square to reduce the impact to this historic neighborhood and also reduce the potential need to reinforce older structures during construction. A better understanding of these risks gives us opportunities early in the project to manage or reduce them, and thus keep a tight rein on costs.

New study shows tolls could help fund proposed bored tunnel
As we updated the viaduct replacement’s cost estimate, the legislature also asked us to determine the potential for tolls to contribute to construction funding. We examined five toll scenarios, with low, medium and high toll rates, that would toll the proposed bored tunnel and, potentially, the north and south SR 99 segments that would lead to it. Our study showed that it is feasible to toll only the tunnel at a medium toll rate and generate $400 million to fill the gap in funding for the viaduct replacement.

If a toll is charged to use the tunnel, traffic model analysis shows that some traffic would divert to local streets and I-5, mostly during the midday, evening and weekend times when these routes are able to absorb additional trips. Because there is capacity during those off-peak times, travel times would stay the same or increase by two to four minutes. Tolling the proposed bored tunnel would encourage longer through trips and discourage shorter, more localized trips on SR 99.

This fall we will release a second Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the viaduct replacement. The document will focus on the bored tunnel alternative and will look at how the transportation system functions, including the potential effects of tolling.

About these updates
Please forward this e-mail to others who might be interested. To subscribe or unsubscribe from this mailing list, visit the subscription page. You will be asked first to enter your e-mail address and set your preferences. Then you can subscribe or unsubscribe to the Alaskan Way Viaduct e-mail update from the Northwest updates section. For more information about the viaduct program, visit

Know before you go
We have a new Web page that describes how WSDOT projects in downtown Seattle are affecting vehicle and pedestrian traffic. It covers projects on SR 99, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement; SR 519 and city streets through downtown and SODO.

Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program links
Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program 
 South End Viaduct Replacement | Central Viaduct Replacement
Current Construction | Public Events | Contact Us

GovDelivery, Inc. sending on behalf of WSDOT · 310 Maple Park Ave SE · PO BOX 47300 · Olympia WA 98504-7300 · 360-705-7000

Friday, January 15, 2010


In today's epesode of Publicola Josh Feit ties the New York Times story on Tea Party with the local activity in the Washington State Legislature.
Earlier this week, I interviewed Washington state’s Republican Minority Whip, Ellensburg-area Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-13), about his  “Washington state health care freedom act of 2010.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“Have you heard of the 10th Amendment?” Rep. Hinkle begins when asked to explain the bill. (Answer: Yes. That’d be state’s rights.) Hinkle, the Republican minority whip, says the health care bill is a federal power grab that violates the 10th Amendment “because it would be a national system, preventing states from having our own system … and this kind of stuff is driving people crazy. People in my district are furious.”

Hinkle says, “It’s time for the states to excercise the power to remind the federal government of constitutional restrictions on their power.”

Hinkle’s proposal failed along party lines, with every single Republican voting in favor. It looks like the Tea Party is already in the GOP leadership in Washington state.

Publicola: Tea Party Power in Washington State

I think we will see more reports like this as the Republicans search for identity. We have a term for the people that actually believe the Tea Party ideals.
The Republicans may be rejecting moderate voters, forcing those people to call themselves "Independents". The people that remain are Tea Partiers, and those that play along to get elected (I call them TeaHuggers).
Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Integrating Transit Problems to Create a Solution

Over the past couple of weeks I have consumed as much local media outlets, in their many versions, and so much of it revolved around transportation. I have picked one, or two, maybe it is three, and combined them into a proposed solution.

Just today at two problems had shown up in one story, SE Seattle Residents to Protest Light-Rail Density Here the push for high density housing is pushing up against citizens that do not want all the cars parked on their streets, and the lower economic class of people they think will be the primary consumers of this housing. There is also this strange desire to build giant cubes of apartments, or condos, without parking for cars. This is claimed to "encourage" transit use. That is just encouraging parking on the street, and that is a problem.

In fact, newly elected Mayor Mike McGinn of Seattle mentioned last week that "storing" cars on streets is a problem. (CityStream, SeattleChannel) Why? Because buses are trapped in traffic. In order to get dedicated bus transit lanes the parked cars on the street must leave the street.
Restricting parking, while claiming that it promotes transit use has very limited results (look around). Until mass transit can provide better service to more people those people will find a way to get to their jobs, and schools, and grocery stores, using cars.
I think it is unrealistic to think that people will give up cars on one day in hopes that at some point in the future transit will catch up with the demands of more people.
So, what to do with the cars?

Meanwhile, reported today this:
The city has issued a cease-and-desist order against the Grocery Outlet at MLK Jr. Way S. and S. Rainier Ave. for illegally operating a park-and-ride for light rail users. According to the order, issued by the Department of Planning and Development in September, park-and-rides are illegal in areas near rail stations. The violation carries a fine of up to $500 per day.

Hey, that is not a "problem, that is a solution. Further, if there is a push to build giant cubes of density near transit centers, rather than giving builders a break by allowing them to build without also building parking for cars, insist that parking is built. Get as many cars off the streat lanes we call parking lanes.
Here is my idea; allow a condo builder to "sell" the parking to the condo home owners association as a shared asset. Change the law to allow condo associations to lease on a monthly bases unused parking to help offset home owner dues.

If the transit proponents are right then the condo owners would have an asset that could pull cars off the street near transit centers, and allow them to offset shared expenses.
Allow existing condo owners the same right, as long as there are not security issues involving garage access to other common areas.
While the transit/density proponent are wrong, at least currently, then condo owners will have off street parking for their evil electric cars.

It me be desirable for a builder to have extra spaces on the property made for this express intent.

A similar situation could be extended to some apartment builders.

There, a solution.

Have a great day,
Mr. Baker