Gov. Jay Inslee has distinguished himself as a champion of a better – and greener – transportation system. His leadership this year helped persuade the Legislature to approve a $16 billion package that would improve roads, expand mass transit, and create pedestrian and bicycle corridors.
The transit-pedestrian-cyclist projects are there because he and other environmentalists wanted them there.
Now comes a stunner. His allies in the alternative-transportation movement say they’re getting signals that Inslee may effectively veto those low-carbon automobile alternatives by triggering what he has called a “poison pill” in the package. They are very, very alarmed.
The so-called poison pill was a condition of Republican support for the bill. Few Republican lawmakers wanted to add 11.9 cents to the state gas tax, and many were nervous that Inslee might also unilaterally order a low-carbon fuel standard that could indirectly add another 12 cents or more to the price at the pump.
So the Republicans concocted the diabolically ingenious pill. If Inslee imposed the tighter fuel standard by executive action, their provision would automatically shift the funding earmarked for alternative transportation projects to road projects. Transit, cyclists and pedestrians would forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars to highways, overpasses, bridges, etc.
The idea that the governor might actually swallow the cyanide is hard to process. Mr. Inslee – if you’re thinking about it, please listen to your friends in the bikeways.
To get a taste of the poison pill, consider what might be lost in Pierce County alone.
Pierce Transit has been preparing to launch express bus service from downtown Tacoma through Pacific Avenue and state Route 7 to the Parkland and Spanaway area. There’s high rider demand in that corridor. The agency has been banking on $15 million in state money to cover startup costs. Inslee would kill the project by mandating the fuel standard.
The bill promises the City of Tacoma $10 million for alternative transportation, including $4 million for the Schuster Parkway Trail. Lakewood would get $2 million worth of safety improvements along the freight tracks that run through town; it would get $2.6 million for the Gravelly Lake Trail. University Place would get two pedestrian-cycling routes.
Picture all those projects and many more like them across the state going poof! as Inslee signs the executive order.
Fighting climate change – the point of a cleaner fuel standard – is a long game. It’s going to take patience.
A real strategy involves building support – among moderate Republicans and independents as well as Democrats – for a broad, long-range carbon-reduction plan.
A cap-and-trade system or carefully crafted carbon tax would be a big step in that direction. The governor would undermine the chances for the necessary political agreement if he imposed a clean fuel standard with scant public deliberation and legislative consultation.
This year’s important gains in alternative transportation shouldn’t be sacrificed for the instant gratification of an executive fuel mandate. In this state, it’s possible to get more alternative transportation and less carbon. But it’s got to be done the hard way, by selling it to the public and at least some of the skeptics.