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March QuickThrottle Column

Well I've been back in Seattle a few days now -- I have to admit I'm surprised at how hard it was to leave Palm Springs.  I'd become quite accustomed to my little neighborhood and my new friends as well as my daily visits with Madelon.   I'll be heading back for another five weeks in early April though and am looking forward to it.   I'm giving serious consideration to getting a small place there and doing a part-time five months there, seven months here thing if I can swing it.   And the dreadful weather upon my return hasn't made me feel much at home.  That being said though it is nice to get home to my familiar surroundings and my home and my friends here -- some of whom thought I'd moved to Palm Springs permanently!   I guess it felt like that after being gone two months.

One of my first tasks upon getting home was to finish my April column for QuickThrottle, which means 'tis time to post my March one here.   So here goes....
MarQThead
Ever since I got rear-ended on the bike in Yakima this past summer I’ve been a bit skittish.  I don’t trust people coming up behind me.   I’ll be sitting on the bike at a light and someone comes up and I kinda suck in air through my teeth, I clench up, I get stiff.  I don’t trust them to stop.  Yet in countless times before I didn’t feel that way.  But all it takes is one and you stop trusting everyone.

All the years I worked in politics you had to develop trust, and all it took was one betrayal of that trust and a lobbyist lost his or her relationship with that legislator forever or at least a hell of a long time.  Cynics would say trust no one – especially people in politics.  But over the years, more often than not, you could trust someone, and I generally took the approach (and still do) that I will trust you until I’m given a reason not to.

Trust is why the legislature will likely not enact a transportation funding package this year, and we’ll be stuck with bad roads, worse traffic, and less transit.   Leaders in the Washington State Senate simply do not trust the Governor when it comes to him unilaterally enacting draconian regulations when it comes to environmental issues that will drive up the cost of a gallon of gas by about a dollar.

And it’s probably just as well.   All the proposals out there to do something to fund roads and transit take a huge chunk of money, and it falls somewhat disproportionately on us riders.

Take for example King County’s recent formation of a “transportation benefit district” which will likely be up for a vote on April 22, 2104.  It adds a sales tax increase as well as a (sit down) whopping SIXTY dollar a year car tab fee.   That’s right, your motorcycle registration, your car registration and any other item you have a license plate on such as a motorcycle trailer (for those of you who trailer to Sturgis) will go up $60 bucks.   The Bentley driving guys will pay the same $60 bucks as your niece on her Vespa scooter.   This is hardly fair and equitable.   At least if you live in King County you can vote on it though.

The legislature is still struggling to decide though on a gas tax increase of up to 11.5 cents per gallon, among a few other crazy ways to raise funds for roads and transit.  They have passed a new $5 car tab fee and $12 title transaction fee dedicated to ferries. The philosophical divide between the “roads and highways” camp and the “transit” camp is so great however, coupled with the “trust” factor that the Senate Majority doesn’t have in the Governor, that it it’s unlikely that the legislature will do anything.

And about that “trust” factor?   I have to say I’m as uneasy with the Governor’s stance now as I am sitting in a stoplight watching to be rear-ended.   Governor Jay Inslee ran on a pretty “green” platform.  He’s promised to implement plans for a “low carbon” fuel standard.   The legislature, rightfully so, wants some oversight in that area, but the Governor is being cagey to say the least.

Low carbon fuel standards have been imposed, but not yet implemented in California, so no one knows how much it will cost, or what it will do to engines.  It requires refineries to blend gas with an advanced low-carbon form of ethanol.   Inslee has signed an agreement with California, Oregon, and British Columbia to institute low-carbon fuel standards.   He didn’t say how he would do it, and the state’s Department of Ecology says all it would take is an executive order and they would.

This scares many in the legislature.  It scares me.  Especially when one reads the state’s own consultants who said such a change will add from .93 cents to $1.17 to the cost of a gallon of fuel.   Not a lot in a five-gallon Harley tank for sure, but who knows what it will do to the engines.   Oil refineries in California are warning of big price spikes when it is phased in there next year.

The Senate leadership has asked the Governor to promise not to institute low carbon fuel standards without legislative approval, but he hasn’t explicitly said he won’t, and his statements dance around the issue and parse words to say the least.  However, he won’t say he won’t impose a low carbon fuel standard.  And therein lies the mistrust, and the reason the Senate is hesitant to pass a gas tax increase of 11 cents if right around the corner the Governor does something to increase the cost more than another dollar.   No one knows what he’s going to do, and he won’t explicitly say.

It’s like sitting at a red light watching the car coming up behind you, not knowing what they will do, and hoping they don’t slam into the back of you.  I know that feeling.  In any case, we are about to get rear ended in our wallets either way I expect.   Lets just hope we get something for it in return.


Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

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