Has the tide turned for Sound Transit? The agency's light-rail plan was looking pretty unstoppable Monday, when agency and federal bigwigs gathered to report that the Bush administration had included in its 2004 budget $75 million of a proposed $500 million grant and had given its highest stamp of approval to the proposed 14-mile starter line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila. The "highly recommended" rating was based on projected ridership, design, and the level of local funding that will go into the project. "We're as close as we have ever been, in terms of not just receiving the funding agreement but also our state of project readiness," says agency director Joni Earl. "The minute we get that grant agreement, we literally are under construction in three weeks." The ticking clock has made time a critical issue for light-rail opponents, and they're doing everything they can to stop the project from Olympia. A bill to force a revote on light rail—and possibly replace it with monorail or another technology—is in the Senate's Highways and Transportation Committee, headed by Eastside Republican Jim Horn. (The bill is sponsored by a whole herd of Eastside Republicans, though Horn is not among them.) Another bill to replace the agency's 18-member board with an elected body (and, incidentally, jeopardize Sound Transit's federal funding by leaving the agency in limbo until an election can be held in November) is in the same committee. A companion bill was expected to be filed by Seattle Democratic Rep. Ed Murray on Wednesday, according to Murray's office. The bill "creates a whole new level of uncertainty" for the agency's goal of securing the grant by summer, Earl says.
At the end of November, the regents of both Washington State University and the University of Washington issued the state Legislature a kinda- sorta-ultimatum: Start bringing state per-student support in line with the actual costs of educating them, or we're going to limit admissions. Cut education funding, and expect to see a smaller student body—just when demand for higher education is about to skyrocket. The resolution wasn't just a fluke; in January, the presidents of both universities issued an unprecedented joint letter asking alums to help spread the message: more state funding for higher education. Though state budgeters claim the Legislature has the final say on how many students will be admitted in any year, the regents' resolution signaled a level of resistance to legislative fiat not seen in a decade or more.
The Washington Post is set to open a Seattle bureau this fall, according to Bill Hamilton, an associate managing editor at the D.C. paper. It will be staffed by Washington state native Blaine Harden, one of many reporters leaving The New York Times in frustration over new executive editor Howell Raines. Harden is also a former Post reporter and will focus on environment and land-use issues.
In a major coup, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reeled in Mark Trahant as its new editorial-page editor; he's previously worked for both the P-I and The Seattle Times and has been a Pulitzer finalist. Trahant replaces Joann Byrd, who is retiring.
Erica C. Barnett, with staff reports