Guests: King County Prop. 1 -- Should voters invest in roads, transit?
Voters will consider King County Proposition 1 in the April 22 election to fund roads and transit. The ballot measure would add a tenth of a cent to the sales tax and set an annual car-tab fee of $60 to prevent deep cuts to Metro bus service and to help fund road projects throughout the county.
Vote yes on Proposition 1: Avoid cuts to Metro transit
HE next time you commute to work, look around and notice all the buses you see. What if one out of every six of those buses wasn't there anymore and those passengers were in cars or crowded onto the remaining buses? What would that mean for your commute and your community?
This Earth Day, April 22nd, voters have an important choice to make about King County's transportation future. For a cost of about $11 per household per month we can keep our buses on the streets and pay for safety and maintenance projects on local roads across King County. Or we can choose to pay nothing and lose up to 17 percent of Metro Transit service and continue to fall behind on road repair projects.
Seventeen percent cuts would impact 80 percent of Metro bus riders and 100 percent of commuters. Those cuts are already planned and would take effect this fall unless voters intervene with a positive vote.
Being in this position is no one's first choice. As the sponsor of the legislation that sent this measure to the ballot, I would much rather be able to say that the taxes you pay are enough to grow and improve our transportation system. Unfortunately, the numbers just don't add up that way.
The Great Recession had a chilling effect on people's spending habits, so the sales revenues that support our transit system are less now than five years ago, even though operating costs and the number of people using the system continue to grow. From 2009 through 2015, Metro expects to collect $1.2 billion less than projected before the recession. The King County Road Services Division's budget has shrunk by one-third since 2009.
County leaders have worked for the past five years to make transportation revenues stretch further. At Metro, we have reduced costs, boosted revenue and prioritized preserving bus service. We took efficiency actions recommended by a 2009 performance audit, reduced the growth of labor costs through furloughs and pay freezes, cut more than 100 staff positions, eliminated the Ride Free Area, enacted a temporary vehicle fee — which expires this year — spent reserves, and raised fares four times in four years. Fares will increase again in 2015. Altogether, these actions have closed $798 million of Metro's transit funding gap. Yet, an annual shortfall of $68 million to $75 million remains, even with sales-tax revenues increasing in the recovering economy.
The measure before voters would provide about $72 million annually for preserving our transit system and about $56 million annually for transportation projects in cities and unincorporated King County. It would be funded through a $60 vehicle fee — replacing the temporary $20 congestion-reduction charge — and a 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax. Both would sunset after 10 years. While these are regressive tax sources, they are unfortunately the only viable options the state of Washington has provided local governments.
In order to mitigate the regressive nature of the taxes, a vehicle-fee rebate would be available to low-income car owners, and a low-income transit fare of $1.25 (compared with an off-peak regular fare of $2.50) would help make transit more affordable for those who need it most.
Remember that the most regressive action we can take is cutting our bus system. That will not only harm low-wage workers who depend on Metro to get to their jobs, it will increase traffic congestion, damage our economic competitiveness, diminish mobility options for seniors, youth and people with disabilities, and hurt our environment.
This Earth Day, make sure our transportation system works now and in the future by voting "yes" on King County Proposition 1.
Larry Phillips is chair of the Metropolitan King County Council. Yes on Proposition 1 website: movekingcountynow.org
Vote no on Proposition 1: Money better spent on roads
HE Metropolitan King County Council is asking voters, on the April 22 ballot, to consider increasing taxes for King County Metro and provide some funding for local streets. Proposition 1 would, for 10 years, add an annual $60 fee on car tabs and increase the sales tax by 0.1 percent.
Voters should reject these proposed tax increases. This would be the county's fourth tax increase to benefit Metro in eight years. Despite this increased revenue, Metro has delivered only 35 percent of service increases it promised voters during that time frame.
This proposed increase would still not make Metro's budget sustainable.
Proposition 1 gives too much to Metro without asking for enough reform of the agency, gives too much to Seattle at the expense of South and East King County, and continues high subsidies for riders who can afford to pay more while imposing a regressive tax on all county taxpayers. Potentially, it could take funding away from crucial road needs as voters tire of opening their wallets.
Metro would replace the expiring annual $20 congestion fee on private vehicles with a $60 fee. Metro officials said they needed that temporary $20 fee because sales-tax revenues were down due to the recession. The recession is over and record sales-tax revenues for Metro of $471 million are forecast for 2014.
Between 2000 and 2012, Metro's operating costs increased by 83 percent, revenues increased by 56 percent and ridership increased by only 20 percent. Metro's hourly operating cost is higher than all but three of the top 10 U.S. transit agencies, according to the National Transit Database (those higher are two in New York City and one in San Francisco). Proposition 1 does nothing to address this problem.
In its 2013 report, the Municipal League of King County recommended maintaining wage restraint for Metro employees and also noted, "The administrative expense that the county allocates to Metro increased significantly and poses a major challenge to meeting the Metro cost control goal."
There is a serious imbalance between those who pay for Metro and those who benefit, according to the 2010 Regional Transit Task Force Final Report and Recommendations.
Even taking into account commute trips to and from the Eastside, Seattle taxpayers pay 34 percent of Metro's operating costs and get 61 percent of Metro service. Eastside taxpayers pay 35 percent, but get only 17 percent of Metro's service. South King County taxpayers pay 31 percent, but only get 22 percent of the service. Proposition 1 would make the imbalance worse. Two-thirds of King County voters live in East and South King County.
Fares cover only 28 percent of Metro's operating cost. Of the top 10 U.S. transit agencies, only two have a slightly lower farebox recovery. The average farebox recovery for these top 10 is 36 percent. Is it fair to subsidize bus rides for a Queen Anne banker or lawyer while imposing a $60 car tab on a single mother living in Auburn who needs a car to juggle two jobs? When Seattle proposed a $60 car tab in a 2011 ballot measure, the Municipal League and others opposed it as a regressive tax. It was soundly defeated.
King County claims that some of the proposed funding would go to streets and highways. It would do so by tapping car-tab money to increase transit subsidies and to provide a smaller portion for roads.
This money could reduce the amount of potential car-tab funds that should go to roads in the future. The tunneling machine Bertha is indefinitely stalled; Highway 520's cracked pontoons are draining construction reserves and its Montlake segment is still underfunded by more than $1 billion. Is it realistic to assume that the rest of the state would help pick up the tab?
Vote no on these regressive tax increases.
Bill Eager is chairman of the Eastside Transportation Association, an organization dedicated to increasing mobility through reduced congestion. Website: eastsideta.com
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