King County Executive chooses pain over gain - vetoes responsible plan that would save Metro bus services

June 10, 2014

They say governing is about making hard choices, and yesterday a top elected official chose to make life harder for the people of King County.  County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday vetoed a practical and responsible plan offered by Councilmember Rod Dembowski that would preserve 95% of current Metro bus service without raising taxes.

Earlier this year Executive Constantine presented people with a stark choice: accept an increase in the regressive tax burden or see a 16% cut in bus services in their communities.  Voters didn’t buy it, suspecting County leaders of crying wolf.  People voted down the measure on April 22nd.  Two days later Executive Constantine followed through on his threat, sending a bill to the County Council that would eliminate 550,000 hours of public service, cancel 72 bus routes and reduce more than 80 others.

Councilmember Dembowski worked with other members to craft an alternative.  His measure passed with a bipartisan majority, but by sundown it had met a swift death on the surface of the Executive’s desk.

The surprise veto is bad news for people who depend on public buses for their daily travel.  Reports indicate the cuts will be painful and disruptive to the lives of thousands of people.

Metro cuts “will hit the disabled particularly hard,” reports The Capitol Hill Times.

“People are worried...if buses and Access [handicapped service] are cut, we become dependent on others.  That ‘I Can’ feeling is going to go away,” said Hope Drummond, a Seattle Commissioner for People with Disabilities.

Dorene Cornwell, who is blind, said the bus cuts, “will just fall to people who are already heavily burdened.”

“The service cuts...will make it harder for people to get to work and increase time stuck in traffic for everyone,” said the Seattle Chamber.

“The impact will be most severe on the transit-dependent, but commuters of all modes, businesses in dense areas, clean air and water, and public health are all losers,” said Martin Duke of the Seattle Transit Blog.

“Cutting bus service would hit poor people hardest,” and, “A loss of transportation options perpetuates the poverty cycle,” wrote Goldy in The Stranger.

“There’s no action more regressive than gutting our transit system,” said Councilmember Larry Philips, who nevertheless voted against Dembowski’s plan to save bus service.

Councilmember Dembowski is showing leadership by devising a third way, a compromise that preserves 95% of bus service and is supported by a majority of his fellow councilmembers.

Executive Constantine rejected this commonsense policy and appears determined to make sure people feel the effect of refusing to accept his proposal to increase regressive taxation.   He’s likely trying to defend his plan after bus cuts turned out to be unnecessary after all.  As an important labor ally put it, “That’s why we are being called a bunch of liars.”

Executive Constantine no doubt believes harsh cuts are needed to show the state legislature how badly Metro needs more money.  His reasoning seems to be, “We need to cut your bus service so we can save your bus service.”

Councilmember Dembowski’s plan makes sense and is good public policy.  It’s supported by groups ranging from the left-leaning League of Women Voters to Virginia Mason Hospital.  It would make better use of Metro’s existing revenue and improve the management of a vital public service.

Instead, people living in Washington’s largest county are bracing for service cuts, all because a senior county official has decided to impose daily disruption on bus riders so he can send a message to Olympia.


Not entirely true

Councilmember Dembowski's ordinance was to: (a) enact the first round of the four rounds of proposed cuts; and (b) look for ways to "buy back" proposed service cuts, including the prospect of sales tax revenues continuing to be higher than forecast, which we wouldn't know for a few months. Unfortunately, his opponents dropped on the public (for the first time earlier this week) that delaying the February 2015 cuts would cost Metro $14 million, evidently something they were holding out for just this instance, apparently not feeling the public needed to know.

I completely agree that Executive Constantine, Council Chair Phillips, and his supporters on the council are determined to make sure people feel the effect of refusing to accept the regressive taxes. That's what I've been saying for awhile now, as they've evaded other revenue-tightening measures. But then, this is the same group that falsely says they've raised fares for the last few years - the last fare increase was in fall of 2011 - yet where the transit agency in question has on their website some startling increases in operating costs of late (e.g., security 80%, insurance and risk management 60%, pension and benefits 40%).

Some of the ones I've suggested they look at:
1. Raise the number of trips a monthly pass is priced on from 18 round trips to 20. That's because there are 22 working days in an average month, and most people don't get 48 days off/year ((22-18) x 12).
2. Eliminate paper transfers as many of the other transit agencies in the region have done. It saves printing costs and reduces fare evasion.
3. Charge a premium for express routes. In New York, they charge $6; in LA, it's about double the "base" fare.
4. Bring Metro's discounted fares (youth, seniors) up to what the other transit agencies in the region charge. Again, the longer-distance routes show the widest gap, about triple. Paratransit, the most expensive trips to provide, is yet another area where Metro is on the low side.
5. If expenses have gone up so much, it's okay for the riders to share at least some of the increase.

By adopting all of these changes, taxpayers would see a "good faith" effort. By ignoring them, politicians appeared to be taking the easy way out with Proposition 1. Councilmember Dembowski's measure was attempting to fix this perception/reality.

Constantine Veto of Bus Service Compromise

Looks like Dow is taking a page out of Obama's Sequester Playbook. "Make it hurt!" The reaction is so typical of a kid who has had his bluff called. Who is the adult in this piece? It sure isn't Dow.

pain over gain...?

How many riders does METRO have each day? Is it not an easy fix to charge them each 25 cents more per ride and solve METRO's self made woes?

Metro has about 400,000

Metro has about 400,000 riders each weekday. Raising fares is one option for Metro to bring in more money, and is one element in Councilmember's Dembowski save-bus-service proposal. In addition, Metro managers could seek to control the rise in operating costs through the contract discussions they are having right now with executives of the powerful bus driver's union. (The union was a major funder of the Prop. 1 campaign.) Salary and benefits make up about 70% of Metro's ongoing costs.