Update: Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant have proposed replacing the sales tax funding in Mayor Murray’s plan to reverse bus cuts with an employee head tax and expansion of the city’s commercial parking tax. Also, transit advocates who filed an initiative to buy back bus service with a property tax increase officially suspended that campaign this week, citing the city’s action and the “more progressive” alternative to Murray’s plan that is now on the table.
Mayor Ed Murray today officially proposed a Seattle-only vote that would allow residents to avoid 90 percent of the cuts to Seattle bus service proposed by King County Metro.
His rescue plan would use the same funding sources—a $60 annual car tab fee and a tenth-of-a-penny sales tax increase—as the Prop 1 measure proposed by King County last month. Prop 1 lost countywide, but it passed by a margin of 2-to-1 inside the city of Seattle. As Murray said this morning:
We know this is what Seattle wants. Two-thirds of Seattle voters in the last election said a very clear and loud yes to transit service. Sixty-six percent of Seattle voters approved that plan.
One difference is that Prop 1 would have raised money for a combination of roads and transit, while Murray’s initiative would spend 100 percent of the money on preserving bus service. It would go before voters in November, presuming the majority of council members who joined Murray in announcing it approve that decision.
There are also a number of key differences between Murray’s plan, which we’ll call “Plan E” for now, and I-118, a voter initiative proposed by transit activists immediately after Prop 1’s countywide defeat. (Those supporters last week agreed to suspend signature gathering for I-118 until they had a chance to see what Murray is proposing.)
- It would raise nearly twice as much money for transit: Murray’s plan would raise $45 million a year, compared to $26 million per year for I-118.
- It uses different funding sources: Murray and others in the city plan to ask Seattle voters to raise property taxes for parks, universal Pre-K, and other transportation needs in upcoming years. They fear voter fatigue, since I-118 would also rely on property taxes (a more progressive funding source.)
- Its time limit is fuzzier: Murray called the Seattle-only tax increases a “temporary” fix until Metro can convince the Legislature to create a more sustainable and progressive funding source. If that happens, Murray said Seattle voters could opt to add new transit service with city funding, but he did not outline how that would happen. By contrast, I-118 proposed to levy a property tax increase for six years.
In Plan E, $40 million would preserve most of the bus service inside the city of Seattle that would otherwise be cut in 2015. The mayor said the city would include a “no supplant” clause in its contract with King County to ensure that Seattle taxpayers don’t wind up subsidizing suburban service.
The new funding would come too late to prevent the first round of bus cuts slated for this September, but Murray wants to use roughly $500,000 in existing Seattle Department of Transportation funds to save several “night owl” routes that are important to workers who need to get to and from work at odd hours.
Another $3 million would establish a “Regional Partnership Fund” that would allow Seattle, other cities, and King County to share the costs of buying back service on important commuter routes that cross city boundaries.The last $2 million would fund a $20 low-income vehicle fee rebate to lessen the tax increase for residents who can least afford it.
Murray also said he would create a new division within SDOT to work with Metro to examine the best ways to allocate service, ensure that bus routes are well matched with the city’s plans to create density, and deliver that service efficiently.
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Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his own efficiency initiaitves for Metro, including a peer review of Metro’s operating costs and performance, an audit of the agency’s financial policies and practices, and a new customer service panel to recommend ways to improve riders’ experiences.
He also announced a new “community mobility contract” program that would allow any city—Seattle or otherwise—to avoid planned cuts to bus routes or invest in new service by “buying” service hours from King County Metro. Each city would have to pay the full cost of providing extra service until Metro obtains sufficient funding to reverse the cuts.
Constantine said he “agnostic” about what funding sources the cities use to buy back bus service. But he also joined Murray at this morning’s press conference, saying:
My preference was, is, and will be action by the Legislature to provide regional tools for a regional system because we live in a regional economy. But until we can get permanent and sustainable funding authority, people still need to get to work every day, employers still need to get workers to job sites, and we need to reduce congestion and gridlock…Until the Legislature acts, and by that I mean more specifically the Senate, I cannot asks cities to accept cuts that they are willing locally to prevent.
Many of the same supporters of Prop 1—leaders from the Downtown Seattle Association, University of Washington, King County Labor Council, One America, El Centro de la Raza, Washington Bus, Fuse, Futurewise, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, and various state and local egislators—joined Murray in announcing his plan.
Seattle voters rejected an annual $60 car tab fee proposed in 2011 to fund a smorgasboard of transportation improvements, including transit, roads, trolleys, bike lanes, pedestrian fixes, education, and freight mobility. Supporters of Murray’s plan said this proposal is different, given its very specific purpose and the fact that the city is responding to a crisis. Results from last month’s election suggest that city residents will support the same transit investments again in November, they said.
Seattle residents already pay an annual $20 Seattle car tab fee that funds transportation investments. Because an additional $20 King County fee will expire at the end of this month, Seattle residents would see their annual car tab fees increase by $40 under the plan, compared to what they currently pay.
Anyone think they can put forward a cogent argument to the effect that the bus and train services providers here are not imposing more than enough taxing already?
Let’s debate that issue.
This year Sound Transit will confiscate about $660 million of regressive tax revenue (with that amount set to climb every year for decades more). Metro taxing (plus the distributions to Metro from Seattle of its separate Bridging the Gap tax revenues) is another $520 million this year. That is a total of $1.2 billion of direct, mostly regressive, taxing for buses and trains.
Given the size of the bus and train systems around here, that’s excessive taxing when compared to how the peers finance transit.
Why don’t they just raise bus fares?
[Answer: because not enough people would pay the true cost. The system is economically inefficient and continuing to subsidize it at all only makes sense to support non-economic goals, e.g., giving poor people – people who can’t pay their fair share of the costs – a way to get around.]