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June 12, 2006

The (attractive) audacity of Locke's transportation group

Posted by David Postman at 10:24 AM

I just talked (and e-mailed) with Jessyn Schor, the executive director of Transportation Choices and one of the co-chairs of the new transportation committee headed by former Gov. Gary Locke. Locke is the chairman and Schor and talk show host John Carlson are the co-chairs.

Schor says she and Carlson, because of their past opposition to a gas tax increase for far different reasons, are also the two "outliers" in the group:

"I have no idea whether we will actually be able to come up with a set of recommendations that John and I are both willing to endorse, but I am attracted to the audacity of such an endeavor, and am therefore willing to see what happens when we try to seek common ground."

The three have met once, Schor said, and agreed to some ground rules "to protect our ability to talk openly." She didn't want to say much about that since the group has yet to officially launch. But I'm willing to guess they at least have agreed not to trash each other in the process of seeing if they can agree on a transportation and tax plan to sell to the voters next year.

As the green voice on the panel, Schor said she wants to avoid what happened with the defeat of the gas tax in 2002:

"In other words, another Hobson's choices where environmentalists are forced to choose between endorsing an enormous investment in highways with some modest transit investments or opposing the whole package with the result of maintaining a status quo transportation system that frankly doesn't work."

The committee is being organized by consultants at the Gallatin Group — both Chris Vance and John Wilson are involved there — and will be run with the help of the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, which has been working with business, labor and environmentalists on transportation issues. They've had some success finding common ground.

Skepticism about the effort from the left, and the right.

UPDATE: Former Gov. Gary Locke says he's getting a good response from his e-mail to business leaders and others looking for support and money to get his new transportation group off the ground. In a telephone interview Locke told me that the effort starts with a blank slate about how big the plan will be.

Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District have talked about projects totaling between $13 billion to $16 billion. But Locke said "we're going to look at it fresh" and no one should assume that's the price range.

Locke said he was asked to head the effort by a number of people, though he wouldn't say who. He said when the Legislature this year linked the transit and road projects — both would need to be approved by voters next year — "the net effect was to force the two sides together."

"This is an opportunity for the roads people to weigh in on transit and the transit people to weigh in on roads," Locke said. And with John Carlson, the anti-tax people will have their chance, too. "John Carlson has always said if it's the right set of projects he'd be willing to pay more," Locke said.

UPDATE UPDATE: John Arthur Wilson from the Gallatin Group says Cascadia has agreed to pay $30,000 for seed money for the effort. The Locke group wants to use polling, focus groups and the "on-line digital community" to get public input.

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