Metro bus system should adjust without new revenue
The Seattle Times editorial board argues against King County Metro's proposed $20 addition to the car-tab tax.
THE proposal by King County Executive Dow Constantine for a $20 car-tab tax to bolster Metro bus service puts the public over a barrel. It needs bus service. The average car owner can afford $20 more. Yet giving the county one more tax increase would allow it not to do what it ought to do, which is to adapt to the new, slower-growing economy.
Consider labor negotiations. A year ago, the top wage rate for a bus driver was $28.47, up 37 percent in the past decade, 10 percent faster than inflation. Drivers' wages were the third-highest in the country, slightly higher than drivers' wages in New York City.
It was the Amalgamated Transit Union's job to get a good deal for its members, and it did. The fault lies with leaders who agreed to the contracts.
A year ago they stiffened up a bit. The union gave up a cost-of-living adjustment for 2011, which was laudable, and more than the sheriff's deputies did; and it gave up a guarantee that its adjustment would be at least 3 percent.
But the drivers kept cost-of-living adjustments for 2012 and 2013, and all the wage gains it had won in the previous 10 years. It also won an increase of 1.3 percent in 2012.
The concessions were not enough.
More important is the matter of service.
Metro says that without the new $20 tax it will have to cut service by 17 percent. Much of that it should do anyway. As Michael Ennis of the Washington Policy Center said on this page last week, a Metro document outlining 600,000 hours in cuts listed 80 percent of the hours as low-productivity routes, meaning they didn't have enough riders or needed to be restructured to be more efficient.
An official 27-member task force, which reported late last year, recommended that Metro management "must control all of the agency's operating expenses to provide a cost structure that is sustainable over time."
We agree. Since 2000, Metro has been given an additional three-tenths of a cent on the sales tax, to say nothing of its fare increases. Part of "sustainable" means not continually asking for more money.
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