Returning Federal Funds Could Leave a Bitter Aftertaste

A rendering of the Center City Connector streetcar line along First Avenue in Seattle.

A rendering of the Center City Connector streetcar line along First Avenue in Seattle. Seattle Streetcar / City of Seattle

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Madison mayor says county is blackmailing his city … Pa. school security secrecy law … and some good news for Colo. firefighters amid bad news elsewhere.

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Leading our roundup of state and local government news is a mayor who could make a decision to turn down federal funds for a major infrastructure project. Scroll down for that and stories from places like Mariposa County, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Jefferson City, Missouri, among other places.

PUBLIC TRANSIT | As Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration awaits a KPMG audit and decides on the future of the Center City Connector—a long-planned and currently-in-limbo streetcar line that would link the city’s two disconnected streetcar lines—there’s a potential bigger worry: If Seattle scuttles the 2.5-mile-long transit project, returning the hard-fought-for federal funding could leave a bitter aftertaste in mouths at the U.S. Department of Transportation and in the offices of the Evergreen State’s congressional delegation. That could jeopardize future transportation projects in Seattle that are seeking federal funding. The approved federally funds for the Center City Connector streetcar link along First Avenue can’t simply be shifted to other local transportation projects, as some have suggested. As Seattle Transit Blog points out, an October 2017 memo from a lobbyist representing the city’s interests in Washington, D.C. to Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold notes that: “Withdrawing support at this point could damage the City’s credibility with the Federal Transit Administration, jeopardizing our other projects in the queue (including Madison BRT and Roosevelt Rapid Ride) and putting future projects at risk.” [Seattle Transit Blog; Streetsblog USA; The Seattle Times]  

After their members authorized a possible strike in a vote on Sunday, leaders with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 in the Washington, D.C. area will meet with representatives from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on Tuesday to continue discussions. Union leaders said workers would not disrupt Metro service during the MLB All-Stars game at Nationals Park. “Our union is prepared to sit down and have a genuine conversation about the issues that got us to this point,” a union spokesman said. “We would hope that WMATA shares our desire to talk in good faith and will not to use this meeting as a stop gap to get through the big day.” [WAMU]

WILDFIRES | The rapidly expanding Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California threatens territory in Mariposa County that’s “a virtual tinderbox primed for disaster,” where trees have been already devastated by drought and bark-beetle infestations. Evacuations have been ordered for local residents. Firefighters are facing major challenges with the “steep terrain, access to the fire and the smoke conditions.Braden Varney, a heavy fire equipment operator, died while fighting the blaze when a bulldozer he was operating turned over. [Los Angeles Times; @CAL_FIRE; Fresno Bee]  

Firefighters in Colorado have brought nine of 12 wildfires to 90 percent containment, according to the U.S. Forest Service. As recovery work starts in the fire zone, a big risk that will remain will be from flooding exacerbated by terrain where vegetation has been decimated. [The Denver Post]

Meanwhile, researchers in Utah are studying how more fire-resistant plants could help reduce wildfire risks. Forage kochiacontains high amounts of protein, it’s easily digested by livestock and wild animals and it has fire retardant abilities.” [Utah Public Radio]

ELSEWHERE …

  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: A new state law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last month allows school officials to discuss safety and security issues behind closed doors if discussing them openly is “reasonably likely to impair the effectiveness of such measures.” [The Morning Call]
  • Madison, Wisconsin: According to Mayor Paul Soglin, Dane County transportation officials are “blackmailing” the city because it won’t approve the reconstruction of two county roads unless the city takes on the responsibility of maintenance. [Wisconsin State Journal]
  • Portland, Oregon: In a statement posted to Facebook, the president of the Portland Police Association said that the city “has become a cesspool” full of human feces, aggressive panhandlers and discarded needles thanks to the homelessness crisis and that Mayor Ted Wheeler’s policies have failed to address them. [Willamette Week; Portland Police Association via Facebook]
     
  • Jefferson City, Missouri: Hospital administrators are scheduled to testify before a Missouri House Budget Committee hearing on Tuesday where they are anticipated to voice their concern over “a change in Medicaid reimbursements that could leave them struggling to keep their doors open.” [MissouriNet]
The Rotunda of the New Jersey State House in Trenton. (Shutterstock)
  • Trenton, New Jersey: A proposal from New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney would strip the ability of the state’s governor to certify revenues, which was a point of contention with Gov. Phil Murphy during the state’s recent down-to-the-wire budget negotiations. [Politico New Jersey]
  • Puna, Hawaii: It’s been 10 weeks since the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island opened up new fissures in the East Rift Zone and sent lava into subdivisions destroying more than 700 of homes and there’s no end in sight. Lava continues to pour from active fissures, covering the landscape and creating new land where it enters the ocean. An explosion sent a “lava bomb” crashing into a boat full of tourists, injuring 23 people. [Hawaii News Now; Reuters]
  • Lake Forest, California: A swarm of bees that sent an Orange County housekeeper to a hospital in critical condition with hundreds of stings on Monday also stung two firefighters multiple times. [KABC]
     
  • Fort Worth, Texas: Looking at data on speeding citations from the Texas Department of Public Safety, state troopers issued twice as many warnings in 2017 compared to actual tickets—858,346 to 355,116. Hidalgo and Cameron counties in South Texas had the highest number of tickets written, followed by Brazoria, Harris and Montgomery counties in the Houston area. [Star-Telegram]

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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