King County’s plan: to punish the poor with regressive tax increases, or hurt the poor with bus cuts

March 13, 2014

King County Councilmember Larry Phillips says he plans 600,000 hours of bus service cuts, many targeted at people living in poor neighborhoods, unless voters agree to increase some of the county’s most regressive taxes.  Councilmember Phillips wants to increase the sales tax and impose a $60-a-year fee on every vehicle registered in King County.

“It’s either bus service cuts or this [regressive tax increases],” he told Seattle Stranger writer Goldy, “One or the other.” See The Stranger article here.

Upping the sales tax and collecting $60 a year won’t mean much to the wealthy owner of a Lexus or a BMW, but it will mean a lot to a struggling working family or a young person suffering long-term unemployment.  The Stranger reports “cutting bus service would hit poor people hardest.”

The planned service cuts are designed to fall hardest on the poor – many are aimed at the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods, and are intended to take away transportation options from people least able to find alternatives.

Councilmember Phillips creates a false choice.  He claims he is “out of options,” even though Metro’s budget increased from $550 million in 2008 to about $675 million today.

This raises the question of how well Metro’s budget is managed, because transit officials in Pierce and Snohomish counties are operating successfully with current revenues.  With effective resource management, officials in neighboring counties have preserved service to the public without raising taxes.

Councilmember Phillips could sit down with his colleagues to learn how they make transit services work within existing revenue streams.  He could open a conversation with Metro’s powerful unions to seek savings and efficiencies that would preserve bus service in poor neighborhoods, or even bring back the downtown free-ride area.

Constructive and open dialogue could lead to solutions that help Metro officials live within their budget in a way that respects their low-income customers, who depend on reliable bus service to get to jobs, school and doctor appointments.  This approach would preserve service to the poorest families without increasing their tax burden.

Instead, the narrow plan championed by Councilmember Phillips ensures the new financial burden would fall hardest on the poor.  And if he doesn’t get the additional tax money he is seeking, he says his planned cuts in King County’s bus service would also be felt most by the poor.  That is why this plan offers a false choice, one that should be unacceptable because it goes against the values of our region.