I went to Olympia on 3/21 to advocate for house bills 1953, 1959, and 1898, all related to generating funds and/or designating transit governing districts for public transit. Since after several efforts at calling and emailing the legislator, Jamie Pederson, from my district (43rd) who is one of the sponsors for HB 1959, I was unable to get a meeting time arranged, I settled for an appointment at 2:30 Thursday with staff of the other legislator from my district, Frank Chopp, to encourage a yes vote on these three bills.
Bill 1953 is aimed at expanding use of the MVET, Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, to 1.5% of vehicle value, with proceeds to go to public transit. Bill 1959 will put a .3% increase in the sales tax on the next ballot. This bill I semi-supported, but think the tax should come from business taxes and not add to the already high and regressive sales tax (which has been repeatedly voted down anyways). Bill 1898 refers to creation of local districts for transit governance, which was the bill I was most interested in since it gives the Seattle metro area more control over collecting and distributing funds for its own transit use.
The points I wanted to make with the staff to advocate for voting yes on these three bills, and other transit bills in general went like this: The two-year extension of the car tab tax is set to expire next year. Having already faced and temporarily avoided a 17% budget cut, Metro busses are likely to experience dramatic further cuts in lines and headway times in 2014 if no new funding is supplied. This is socially unjust to low-income residents who depend on public transit, and in addition it is a negative for business interests who benefit from workers being able to have a reliable commute. Further, it is not only low-income urban residents who have an interest in supporting public transit: From 2001 to 2009, young people (16 to 34-years-old) who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent (nationwide). [I drew this statistic from an April 2012 study by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.] In other words, this is a generational and cultural shift in favor of transit that is important for lawmakers to understand. The current generation of younger voters, the current and future voting base, is very pro-transit, and legislators would do well to have a pro-transit voting record. In addition, funds for maintaining roads, included in these bills, are beneficial to bicyclists as much as to cars.
I met with Miranda Leskinen, executive legislative assistant to Representative Frank Chopp, and another staffer, Jennifer (I didn’t get her last name or card). They were both very welcoming and willing to take time to discuss all my points with me. While I felt that none of my points were particularly new or unexpected to them, we did talk some about the connection between businesses being pro-transit in order to get workers to the office and the willingness of businesses to contribute more funds to public transit. Miranda said that there had been quite a lot of voiced support from the business community in regards to maintaining transit, but not much word on where they expected the funds to come from. She also gave me some points on further steps to take to advocate for the bill, such as contacting the sponsor with responses to revisions in the bill or suggestions for future revisions, and contacting the nonpartisan staffer overseeing the bill with technical questions. She wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t managed to get any appointments with an actual legislator, since this is a busy time of year.
This was a pretty positive experience, and while I don’t feel my contribution adds up to much in this case, I think it was a great first step in being more politically active. I had never dug into the language of actual bills before or even tried to call a legislator – I’d only sent form letters now and then. I think having gone through a basic advocacy procedure and doing something as simple as figuring where the offices are, how to set up appointments, and where to look online for information, would make me much more likely to participate politically in the future. Even if I’m not convinced of the usefulness of individual in-person visits in the face of much more organized and influential interests, it was kind of fun. It also made me more aware of how it’s possible to follow and contribute to local politics beyond checking off a few briefly researched ballot issues at election times.