King County Councilmember Dembowski's plan would preserve most Metro bus service without regressive tax increases

June 9, 2014

Soon after the people of King County defeated Proposition 1 , King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposal to increase regressive sales and car taxes to avoid his bus-cuts plan, Executive Dow Constantine said “There are no other options but to cut [bus] service.”

True to his word, two days after the vote, Executive Constantine sent his proposal to cut 550,000 hours of Metro bus service to the King County Council. His plan included service cuts in four phases through September 2015 that overall would reduce Metro bus service by 16%.

Many officials, however, are concerned about how these harsh cuts would affect the elderly, the disabled and low-income families living in communities across the County.  Now a bi-partisan group of King County leaders are calling for a timeout in Executive Constantine’s bus cut proposal.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environmental Committee, introduced an alternative proposal last week that would allow the Council to pull back plans for a full 16% cut.

Councilmember Dembowski’s plan would reduce the cut to 161,000 hours of service, about 5%, implemented this September, thus keeping 95% of Metro bus service in place. Plans to further cut community bus services in 2015 would be cancelled. His plan was introduced in Ordinance 2014-0210, and relies on better budget management to reduce the amount of planned cuts:

"An opportunity exists for the council and executive to work collaboratively with each other, stakeholders and cities throughout the county to identify alternative cost savings, efficiencies and updated estimates of revenue and expenditures that could reduce Metro’s annual budget gap, thereby decreasing the number of transit service hours required to be reduced in 2015."

According to The Seattle Times, the Councilmember also wants to increase fares, eliminate legacy paper transfers, and reduce or eliminate discounts to employers for monthly passes to keep bus service on the road. He also noted King County Metro would build a hefty $822 million reserve fund by 2021 if the cuts go through, more than Metro would need.

Dembowski’s legislation was approved by his Committee by a vote of four to three, and was sent to the full nine-member Council for a final vote this week.  If the Council’s four Republicans join with Democrat Dembowski to preserve 95% of Metro’s bus services, the plan would pass five votes to four.

The initiative shown by Councilmember Dembowski demonstrates that County leaders can avoid most of the harm that would be imposed by proposed bus service cut by making better use of Metro’s current rising level of revenues.  (Metro is due to receive a $32 million tax windfall in 2014, with a further unexpected revenue increase in 2015.)  Executive Constantine has not yet indicated whether he would veto the service-preservation proposal and press ahead with his full 16% cut.

Councilmember Dembowski’s ordinance is good news for public transit in King County. Over the past few months, WPC has provided recommendations King County officials could implement to help preserve bus service, some of which are included in Dembowski’s plan. A good-faith effort includes considering all options before cutting services that would fall hardest on King County’s low-income residents.