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King 5: Inslee backed into corner on ‘poison pill’

Screenshot from the King 5 report. Click or scroll down to watch.
Screenshot from the King 5 report. Click or scroll down to watch.

Governor Jay Inslee was literally backed into a corner in a recent King 5 report, a pertinent visual for the Governor’s tricky position thanks to the “poison pill” provision in the state transportation package that would sacrifice walking and biking safety funds for so-called “clean” fuel standards.

“It is ludicrous to make Washingtonians choose between safe buses and cleaner air,” said Inslee. And he’s right, of course. The poison pill, inserted into the new transportation law by Republicans, is a gross — though admittedly clever — political play aimed at hurting Inslee rather than making smart policy.

But when Inslee decided to allow it through in order to move forward a massive highway spending package, he certainly didn’t make it clear that he intended to swallow the thing. If he had, supporters of Safe Routes to School and a whole list of quality biking, walking and transit projects funded by about $700 million of the $16.1 billion law not going to highways would have revolted and fought the package (see our previous coverage for background).

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That’s why Washington Bikes and partners like Transportation Choices Coalition and even the League of American Bicyclists are getting loud, urging Inslee not to cut this biking and walking safety money in lieu of fuel standards. This has put Inslee in a tough spot because people who bike have been a mainstay of his support, in part because he likes to bike himself.

“Look, I ride my bike a lot, and I believe we ought to have clean air while riding our bikes and bike paths, and we ought to have a way to do both,” he told King 5.

$235 million dollars won’t go very far if you’re building a new highway (the 520 Bridge Replacement Project has a budget of $4.65 billion, for example), but it is an unprecedented amount for biking and walking safety and access improvements. With that funding, the state can help communities across the state build a ton of new sidewalks, improved crosswalks, trails and even help fund some bigger projects like the Northgate bike/walk bridge.

And as WA Bikes Executive Director Barb Chamberlain told King 5, “A biking or walking investment is always an investment in cleaner air, always.”

If you are still on the fence about this, remember that this fuel standard would be an executive order. There’s no guaranteeing that the next governor won’t just reverse it on day one. But this Safe Routes to School and multimodal transportation funding is for 16 years, the duration of the whole transportation package. It would be very unwise to simply throw that away, dedicating our state to basically only building highways for the next decade and a half.

If supporters of the fuel standards can pack the legislature next election, then they can pass a more permanent version then. Or an initiative of the voters could put it in place. Neither of those would trigger the “poison pill,” which specifically applies to executive actions.

But if state leaders stab biking and walking safety supporters in the back, that’s not going to help them next election season. Rather, it feels like Inslee is playing right into his Republican opponents’ hands by splitting his base.

Here’s the King 5 report:

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15 responses to “King 5: Inslee backed into corner on ‘poison pill’”

  1. MikeG

    As an alternative to the low-carbon fuel standards (aka poison pill), why not embark on a statewide EV public charging station deployment? Gov. Inslee recently commented about how great it was to have EV charging station across the state because “it enabled EV tourists”.

    Hello Governor–having charging stations across the state enables EVs, tourists and non-tourists alike. It makes it possible for people to use electric vehicles instead of fossil-fueled vehicles, which would have a greater effect on climate change than switching to low-carbon fuels.

    1. Wells

      All-battery BEVs lull motorists into a false sense of environmental security. The only way to sufficiently reduce emissions is to drive less, fly less, truck and ship goods around the world less. Toward that end, PHEVS (plug-in hybrid EVs), have far more potential to reduce both CO2 emissions and vehicle miles travelled overall. Discouraging the bio-fuel industry – including combustable hydrogen which is more practical in PHEV drivetrains than in fuel cell EVs – is another example of transportation-related business interests putting profit ahead of sustainability. It looks like the Koch Bros are plotting world-wide genocide, and arch-conservatives approve, expecting Jesus to rid the world of godless liberals and dark skinned heathen.

      1. Nathanael

        I will say this: driving an all-battery BEV has caused me to realize that the behavior of gasoline cars is a major cause of road rage and aggressive driving.

        In an automatic, the car “wants” to go forward and go faster. Motorists subconsciously pick up on this, and because they’re dumb, they internalize it.

        People driving BEVs are perfectly comfortable cruising at 5 mph. The car is happy, it’s smooth, the driver doesn’t have to ‘fight’ the engine. There is no “idling”; being stopped in traffic is quiet and comfortable, not rattly and shaky.

        I think the general shaking of gasoline cars is another thing which makes motorists nervous and edgy and violent.

        I think a shift to BEVs may actually be good for street safety.

      2. wut

        “All-battery BEVs lull motorists into a false sense of environmental security. ”
        False in what way? Do you suppose that operators of BEVs are somehow more ignorant of their environmental impacts than are operators of fossil-fueled vehicles?

        “…PHEVS (plug-in hybrid EVs), have far more potential to reduce both CO2 emissions and vehicle miles travelled overall. ”
        More potential than what?
        It’s hard to imagine that a PHEV, carrying an engine and fuel tank and burning fuel, reduces emissions more than a BEV which doesn’t burn any fuel nor need to carry fuel-related appurtenances.

        If you think the answer is “move stuff less”, then my reply is “you first”. But I’m joking with that reply. My real reply is: there’s a lot of room for efficiency improvement in the ways we move stuff, and we should make those improvements. We should also reduce the amount of pointless moving-about-of stuff, because it is wasteful and therefore inefficient.

        It doesn’t sound to me like you’ve done much research in these matters. There are a lot of engineering reasons why PHEVs are hard to make right and why ‘combustible hydrogen’ doesn’t work well for engines. Also hydrogen isn’t necessarily a bio-fuel, and the one bio-fuel which works really well, biodiesel, is doing just fine regardless of the “discouragement” you cite.
        I’m not saying you’re wrong about that last, either- I’m saying there’s hope- because you can’t fool physics.

  2. Josh

    The Legislature may have set the trap, but the governor should be smart enough not to step into it.

    Every kid who gets hit in a crosswalk will give his opponents a chance to remind voters that he thought raising fuel taxes was more important than their children’s safety.

    He’d be a fool to accept that.

  3. Northbound

    Cascadia Planet doesn’t see it the way you see it (http://seattletransitblog.com/2015/07/20/is-gov-inslee-getting-ready-to-swallow-the-poison-pill/):

    “[Inslee press aide Dave Postman n]oted that the transportation alternatives money, which comes from licensing and vehicle weight fees, would not automatically shift to highways.

    ‘The poison pill would require multi-modal funds to be transferred to the Connecting Washington account if the administration moved ahead with a clean fuel standard. From there, it would have to be reappropriated by the Legislature. It doesn’t automatically go to road projects.’

    …Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost. A state government contact confirmed that staff is running numbers. And since this is only the first years of a transportation package that runs through 2031, the governor may also calculate that these losses could be reversed in future legislative sessions. The Democrats hope to re-capture the State Senate with presidential year turnout in 2016.

    I’ve known Inslee for a number of years. Based on that my gut says he is preparing to pull the trigger to implement Clean Fuels.”

    Embrace low-carbon fuel standards now (i.e., swallow the pill) and try after 2016 to recoup lost funds for multimodal transpo? Or stand pat and then try to get a low-carbon fuel standards passed after 2016? I want those walking and biking safety funds but I’d also love to get those fuel standards.

    What are the Dems’ chances of taking the entire legislature in 2016?

    1. Southeasterner

      Why doesn’t Inslee just support a voter initiated carbon tax which completely avoids anyone swallowing any pills?

      You could even use the carbon tax (stick) revenue to provide tax incentives (carrot) to refiners and petroleum product distributors to heavily encourage low-carbon fuel production and distribution.

      Stop looking South to California and a carbon program that has limited success and start looking North to British Columbia and a carbon tax program that is quickly becoming the global gold standard.

      1. PSJ

        I was leaning towards something like this as well. It’s easy to say, though; and harder to do. It would be an opportunity to show public support; and also an opportunity for deep-pocketed opponents to buy the (negative) vote.
        Best-case scenario: opponents would lose a lot of money, and the election; and “we the people” would have an increased sense of ownership about addressing climate change.
        Worst-case scenario: opponents lose a lot of money, and the status quo remains unchanged.

    2. asdf2

      “…Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost.”

      As if the only point of walking, bicycling, and transit is to reduce carbon emissions. That’s a, point, but hardly the only one.

    3. Josh

      So comforting to hear that lives lost to traffic violence don’t enter into the equation.

  4. […] As Governor Inslee gets ready to throw bike/ped advocates under the bus, advocates fight back, including Seattle Bike Blog. […]

  5. Pablo96

    When this is the best you can elect, it is a reflection on the quality of politicians that represent this state. He rather be a stubborn idiot vs. thinking about the greater good that goes beyond his time in office.

  6. Leigh

    A good time to write the Governor to help make sure the money for bikes and transit stays. They really do read those emails … and frankly if we want to keep the money in the budget we have to make sure that office is hearing message over those pushing him to sign the poison pill. (And no, I don’t work for a bike advocacy group – I just want some safer solutions on our roads.) Sample letters are on the WA Bikes site, or directly communicate with the Governor’s office via his webpage. This is what I wrote.

    Dear Governor Inslee,

    First, thank you for working so hard on climate change throughout your career in Washington DC, and now here at home.

    I’m writing to express my concern over the trade-off The Seattle Times and King 5 are reporting that you are considering … promoting safe biking and walking transit verses the executive order for low car emissions.

    I’ve been biking around Seattle the last week running errands and going to appointments and letting my Prius stay quietly parked in the garage. Exactly the behavior that is needed by more people to make a long-term impact on our climate.

    Two of the last three days I’ve had near misses … once a truck pulling a boat passed me from behind on a narrow road with 4 inches between me and the boat trailer Once a metrobus squeezed by and pulled in front of me, the back end of that bus cutting me off by a foot. Both of those near misses would have startled many newer riders into crashing or frightened them into never venturing out on their bike again … adding one more car to the roads that are already painfully packed, dumping emissions. It’s incidents like this – due to unsafe infrastructures – that derail the long-term behavioral changes that will make any meaningful long-term solution to climate change viable …

    They are clearly both important. Both part of the solution. They both need to happen. But taking money from cycling and other no carbon modes of transportation simply undermine the goal. And, I think, undermine the piece of addressing climate change that is the most difficult … creating the personal changes in how we live our everyday lives.

    I’m sorry that this “poison pill” is even being debated publicly because I think it undermines your leadership and simply legitimizes the idea that alt transit/bikes only deserve one “win” … when, as we know, we need to do it all to effect real change for our future.

    Thank you for your consideration,

  7. Dave

    When will Kshama Sawant run for governor so we can get rid of Jay “Big Pussy” Inslee?

  8. […] when biking, walking and (some) transit advocates were arguing against clean fuel standards, but that was the trap political opponents of Governor Jay Inslee set in the state’s new transportation funding […]

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