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J425 Politics: TBD Gains Approval; Viking-slash-warrior consolidates statewide power
Lake Stevens resident Steve Hobbs wins Sec. State election; Lake Stevens TBD passes -- narrowly; TBD and ARPA provide unique funding opportunities for local leaders
Lake Stevens Proposition 1 —The Transportation Benefit District measure — gained approval at the polls with Lake Stevens residents narrowly approving the creation of a tax district and an associated .002% sales tax to fund its coffers.
In plain terms, the Mayor and the Council asked voters to initiate a sales-tax funded Transportation Benefit District that will generate about $1.5 million a year in new revenue. And the voters backed the City, by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1%.
The City says that cash will be used to pay for sidewalks, road improvements, and for much-needed matching funds necessary in obtaining state and federal grants and improvements.
And while residents did give the Council and the Mayor their approval — the mandate is far from overwhelming. If anything, a review of previous funding measures considered in Lake Stevens combined with a statewide review of TBD measures provides some reveal that Lake Stevens residents gave their permission guardedly.
Last week in a sit-down with Mayor Gailey, J425 told the mayor we felt it the ballot measure was likely to fail. Not because of a lack of trust, but instead because of the timing crunch created by the late-in-cycle decision to go to ballot.
We were wrong.
Typically, a funding measure like this one is prepared at least 12 months out and rolled out with a parallel education and volunteer board campaign. Because of the compressed schedule and the lack of a citizen committee to advocate on behalf of the measure, this was destined to be a close vote.
That’s why that even despite the close margin, it’s possible to interpret the results as a vote of confidence for current leadership.
The Mayor is aware of the trust placed in him by his constituency.
“Because the community chose to support the ballot measure, we will be able to fund safe walkway and sidewalk connections to schools, street maintenance for high-volume roads, and traffic congestion relief,” Mayor Gailey said, concluding that as a result of the voter support, the City will “leverage TBD funding to secure millions more in grants to pay for larger transportation projects in the city.”
The previous comments are excerpted from a Letter to the Editor we recieved from the City yesterday. The City’s letter is published in our Community/Letters section and we’ll link it here as well.
Additionally, here’s the City’s graphic illustrating TBD-funded projects.
A Blow Out by US House Standards, Razor Thin for Municipal Funding Measures
The TBD measure passed by 551 votes; 7571 to 7020 — which works out to 51.9% for and 48.1% against.
A veritable blowout if we’re talking US House races this election cycle, but very close with respect to Lake Stevens’ history of supporting local ballot measures — the LSSD hasn’t lost a funding measure in over 40 years.
As far as Statewide averages, City-run TBD measures tracked by the MRSC since 2013 have passed by an average of 26%.
Lake Stevens becomes the eighth Snohomish County city to institute a TBD joining Arlington, Lynnwood, Marysville, Monroe, Mukilteo, Snohomish, and Stanwood.
Of those cities, all but Stanwood and Arlington are past the initial ten year authorization. Like everything else in public sector finance, new funding mechanisms seldom sunset.
Across the state, there’s an uptick in cities preparing to go to ballot for TBD approval, according to the MRSC.
Part of the reason municipalities are looking at the TBD game is because the legislature recently raised the lid on taxation from .02% to .03%, giving municipalities a little more room to tax.
Additionally, a new law change adopted in 2022 gives cities the ability to raise the tax amount through councilmanic action (without a vote, where previously voters needed to approve an increase in the base sales tax.
New legislation: Effective July 1, 2022, Sec. 406-407 of ESSB 5974 increases the maximum transportation benefit district (TBD) sales tax authority from 0.2% to 0.3% and authorizes indefinite renewals of up to 10 years with voter approval.
In addition, for TBDs that include all of the territory within the boundaries of the jurisdiction(s) that established the TBD, the legislation authorizes the governing board to impose 0.1% of the sales tax councilmanically (without voter approval) up to 10 years at a time. We will update this page soon to reflect this new legislation. - MRSC
That said, the City of Lake Stevens won’t have to ask citizens to approve a tax increase from two cents to three. There’s no reason to think an increase is likely anytime soon.
These benefit districts are also increasingly popular with elected because they provide municipalities with an ongoing revenue stream that can be positioned as funded (at least in part) by visitors, in town to do their shopping and dining out.
In reality, most Lake Stevens residents are doing their shopping and dining around here so it’s really a light self taxation, but there’s nothing wrong with that — that’s how we fund school projects too.
The City Council approved the ballot resolution at its July 12 meeting, citing one of the city’s favorite tools: a survey in which more than half the polled residents stated they wanted more sidewalks connecting neighborhoods and schools.1
As a result of the survey, the Council moved forward with the decision to ask voters to create the TBD and levy a sales tax of .02%, with the understanding that revenue will pay for road preservation, street and sidewalk projects — and for the provision of matching funds for grants and transportation projects — in that order.2
According to a City release, the TBD would raise approximately $1.5 million per year for projects and matching funds for larger grants - a sizable stream of ongoing revenue. When combined with the $9.5 million in one-time Federal funds Lake Stevens received from the American Recovery and Pandemic Act (ARPA) — cash that is cleared for direct use on road, sidewalk and infrastructure projects — the City should be ready to put a significant chunk of change to work on projects that will lead to a appreciable benefit.
We bring up ARPA with respect to the TBD funds because ARPA funds are qualified for use on stuff like sidewalk development — and, in fact, sidewalks have been one of the most popular ARPA uses.
Accordingly, the question J425 should’ve put to the City… as it rolled out a request for residents to tax themselves to pay for sidewalks — is basically this: “Um. Why don’t we use ARPA on the sidewalks instead of raising taxes?”
And J425 is quite sure there’s a good answer, we just weren’t around to ask that question then.
ARPA - A Once in a Lifetime Windfall for Smaller Muncipalities
We spoke about the overlap in purpose between ARPA funds and the intended uses of the TBD. The prospect of combining these two new streams of revenue presents an exciting opportunity for Lake Stevens’ leaders.
For local governments, who literally never get direct disbursements passed down in cash from the Feds, ARPA is a windfall and a force multiplier.
ARPA offers small cities (like Lake Stevens) generational opportunity to change the trajectory of city economies, improve the prospects for suffering citizens, and address long-festering infrastructure issues as well as economic and social disparities.
As AWC notes, it’s the biggest cash infusion of its kind for cities since the Great Depression.
And now, because of the after-effects of Covid and Federal legislators attempting to jump start ailing cities and an ailing macro economy, local municipalities are sitting on “a generational opportunity to change the trajectory of city economies, improve the prospects for suffering citizens, and address long-festering economic and social disparities”…at least that’s what the Brookings Institute says.
Fellow AWC members are applying ARPA to fund the sort of projects Lake Stevens will fund via the TBD; (and/or projects the City has identified as needs in other areas) —like sidewalks, road improvements, stormwater infrastructure, quality of life investments like parks, shared spaces and senior or community centers…usually augmented by generous direct cash benefits for citizens and/or grants to local small business (See footnote) and other popular improvements.
The popular project qualifier (and straight up cash hand outs) are linked to ARPA for political reasons. People are aware that that this one time hand out is, in effect, government stimulus paid for by taxpayers.
Judging by other local government’s creative application of ARPA, a best-guess J425 back of the napkin use for Lake Stevens’ $9.5 million might look like this: A million for the much needed new senior center; $4.5 million on sidewalk investment; A couple million in direct grants and benefits made directly available to citizens and businesses; Another $1 million in education grants to area residents who need education to become a police officer or a firefighter, with the understanding that they’ll take a community job in return for the grant money.
Let’s bring this point home. The City has found itself with two new significant funding sources. In once case, voters have agreed to tax themselves in the midst of a recession — and in doing so — provided the City with the cash to complete sidewalk projects.
In the other case, the City is sitting on a stimulus windfall which is sort of a gift and a curse: it’s cash free and clear, but it’s expected to be leveraged in a manner that acknowledges where the money is coming from. How city leaders choose to leverage and justify the trust and resources provided by these related funding sources will likely tell the tale of our city’s prospects over the next decade.
Let’s hope for creative, inspiring and transparent use of these opportunities.
Lake Stevens' Silent Warrior Steve Hobbs Retains Secretary of State
It’s entirely on purpose.
What’s that you say?
Well…the fact that Lake Stevens has one of its most prominent citizens installed second in the line of succession behind the Governor…and we never really think about it.
Steve Hobbs has made a career out of camouflaging his strengths.
He’s adept at the art of consolidating power, hidden in plain sight..politely answering anything you ask him, never getting flustered.
Give the man his due. Hell you probably saw him at Team Fitness last week and asked him to hand you your water bottle. He probably did, agreeably. I mean, there’s no need for him to let on that he’s capable with weaponry ranging from M4s to samurai swords to Roberts Rules of Order.
That’s the strategy though — Steve Hobbs moves in silence.
The man who went from D&D in the LSHS hallways to multiple overseas deployments in mideast and slavic combat zones has leveraged his low profile as an advantage. People underestimate him. They don’t see him and correctly identify him as a killer, politically and otherwise. Yeah I said otherwise, he’s a soldier.
And so he’s moved from militarism abroad to boots on the ground in the 44th District, knocking on doors and springing an upset. That’s how he got his first seat in the Washington State Senate in 2007. I was there with him for four years.
From there Hobbs leveraged his way into the incredibly powerful Senate Transportation Chair seat - the individual in charge of Washington’s roads, bridges, vehicles and ferries. You can thank him for those serpentine roundabouts up at Frontier Village.
And after a couple tough losses in statewide races, Hobbs climbed his way into the Secretary of State role last year, seizing a vacancy. The move wasn’t without risk though. Hobbs surrendered his powerful Transportation Chair seat in order to take the statewide office…with its huge staff, varied powers and capital rotunda office suites.
That said, Hobbs knew he’d have to navigate a wicked series of electoral issues in order to even secure his first term. Namely: in 2022, he’d have to earn the right to finish the existing term, vacated by his predecessor. If he won in that election, he’d have to run again in 2024, to earn his first term as Secretary of State. In short Hobbs knew he’d have to win two statewide elections in three years before he even got his initial four year term.
His opponent Julie Anderson conceded to him on Saturday, trailing by just under three percentage points.
In doing so, Hobbs became the first Democrat to win election as Secretary of State in 58 years. An extremely strange statistic for this very blue state.
And a very proud achievement for a son of Lake Stevens that we should be proud to call our own. And I don’t say that lightly. It’s true though.
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It’s a story for another day, but J425 happens to be published by a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and the former operator of a polling consultancy… we’re gonna double back on the form and function of these municipal surveys at a later date).
It is worth mentioning — in the spirit of transparency — that the City did not appear to inform voters of their ability to raise the sales tax without a public vote. It’s not included on the FAQ or Press Release at least. Is this a nitpick? perhaps.On the other hand, letting people know that, if the TBD is approved, the Council is free to levy a 50% tax increase by councilmanic action alone does seem like relevant info.