Tarleton Addresses Transportation, Environment, Revenue

By Zachariah Bryan, August 13, 2013, Ballard News Tribune


About 15 locals packed out the conference room in the Ballard Coffee Works on Market St to get a chance to chat with Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Ballard) this morning.


Tarleton addressed some of the biggest issues facing Washington state in the legislature, including the coal export terminal, stormwater runoff and water access, the transportation package and the state’s tax system.


The conversation started strong with the coal export terminal north of Bellingham, which The Ballard News-Tribune has covered fairly extensively. The latest news is that Whatcom County and the Department of Ecology decided that it would go through with a wide ranging environmental impact scope, taking into account human and environmental health and impacts on communities outside of Whatcom, as well as local impacts within the county.

The proposed export terminal, even though it is north of Bellingham, will have an effect on Ballard, too. Up to 18 coal trains more than a mile long would wind their way across the Ship Canal north of the Ballard Locks, through Golden Gardens and through Carkeek Park.


Tarleton marked the expanded EIS as a big win. She and Rep. Reuven Carlyle were part of the legislative force that helped pressure the State Department of Ecology and Whatcom County to take into consideration a wider range of impacts.


The talk went on to the subject of water. Tarleton said access to water, stormwater runoff and water infrastructure would comprise one of the biggest conversations the state will have in the next ten years.


Ballard is responsible for a full quarter of all of Seattle’s stormwater runoff, when the combined sewer system overflows and gushes into Salmon Bay and other bodies of water. Last November alone, 27 million gallons poured out of Ballard, out of 99 million gallons in Seattle overall. (See our full report from last January here.)


One of the main problems is an aging infrastructure. The combined sewer system was designed back when Ballard was home to more dirt and trees — which absorb water — rather than roads and driveways.


Access to water was another problem that Tarleton was concerned with. While not as big a problem here in Ballard, she said it was a huge problem in Eastern Washington. She said water was “the most pivotal resource.”


Perhaps transportation, though, drew the biggest concern from the small crowd. When one attendee asked, “How best to move with transportation?” he drew knowing nods and exclamations from the whole room.


If you’ve been living under a rock, the huge $10 billion transportation package hit a roadblock when an agreement couldn’t be made with the largely Republican Majority Coalition Caucus.


“We’re at a crisis here,” Tarleton said. “As you probably already know, King County Metro will be cut by 17 percent. … (Ballard) is one of the most dense and fastest growing areas in the city and we will have reduced transit.”


By the point Ballard had reached this much growth — something that wasn’t supposed to happen until much later according to the growth management plan — there were supposed to be multiple modes of transportation. Now, even though Ballard has RapidRide now and high capacity transit will be on its way, the neighborhood will be seeing cuts rather than additions.


Tarleton said the state needs to invest not just in cars and bridges, but other modes of transportation as well.


and cycles. “We have to have safe, separate access … We are feeling the impacts of congestion. Cars, trucks, buses, bikes and people all in the same space.”


She noted an incident today as she was on her way to Ballard Coffee Works. On 24th Ave NW, a car by Cafe Besalu was pulling out of its parking spot and, without looking at the rear view mirror, the driver almost hit a bicyclist in the bicycle lane. Luckily, she said, the bicycle was able to maneuver out of the way, but if could have been much worse.


“We have to do something. I know every single one of us have seen it,” she said.


Part of the problem for revenue is that the state tax system is regressive, she said. Especially when it comes to transportation funding. The only two ways to fund transportation are federal grants and the gas tax, which is declining as cars become more efficient and people drive less.


“It is absolutelly regressive, in every which way, with any economist,” she said of Washington’s tax system. At the beginning of this year, The Washington D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a report crowning Washington state with the most regressive tax system.


Part of the problem is the sales tax, Tarleton said, which is an extremely unreliable source of revenue that ebbs and flows with the economy and, some say, disproportionately affects the poor. “It’s the highest of any place I’ve lived, including Washington, D.C.,” Tarleton said.


In fact, combining the tax structure with the Majority Coalition Caucus’ unwillingness to raise taxes, the only reason the legislature even got through this prolonged session, Tarleton said, was because there was an updated, better-than-expected revenue forecast.


“We just borrowed time and staunched the bleeding and started over,” Tarleton said, setting the stage for the work the Legislature will have to do next year.


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