New tax proposal to maintain bus service in Seattle; a timeline of events

May 15, 2014

On April 22nd, voters in King County overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 1, a ballot measure to increase regressive car fees and sales taxes to provide more money for existing levels of public transit.  The special election cost about $1.8 million.  The measure’s defeat has sparked a crisis in the County’s management of Metro bus services.

Before the vote King County officials said they would cut 600,000 hours of bus service if the people didn’t agree to pay higher taxes.  After the vote, County leaders say they plan to move ahead with their deep cuts in service to communities across the county.  Meanwhile, Seattle officials announced they want to raise regressive car fees and sales taxes to gain more money to pay for current levels of bus service in the city.

The fast pace of change has made it difficult for people to track the latest regressive tax increase proposal or newest plan to cut bus services.  To help understand how Seattle and King County officials arrived at the present situation, here is short timeline of events.

  • October 31st, 2013: Metro’s contract with its most powerful labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, expires.  King County managers engage in discussions with labor executives in an effort to negotiate a new contract.
  • December 20th, 2013: King County officials conclude a contract offer that provides a 4% pay increase over three years. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 rejects the proposal as not generous enough.
  • January 14th, 2014: King County Executive Dow Constantine and other County leaders announce Proposition 1, a ballot proposal that would impose a $60 car tab fee and a .1% increase in the consumer sales tax.  The increased tax revenue would make more money available for union contracts.
  • March 5th, 2014: The (Seattle) Stranger reports, “Cutting bus service would hit poor people hardest,” and, “A loss of transportation options perpetuates the poverty cycle.”
  • March 19th, 2014: King County budget documents show that County officials expect to receive record levels of revenue in 2014, a $32 million windfall, and continued revenue increases in future years, without passage of Proposition 1.
  • March 25th, 2014:  Metro officials report the “improved sales tax will allow Metro to reduce the proposed package of cuts,” but confirm they will impose service cuts if Proposition 1 fails.
  • April 15th, 2014: County officials say they will reduce their planned service cuts slightly from 600,000 to 550,000 bus hours, leaving 92% of the original cuts in place.
  • April 23rd, 2014: Public disclosure documents show supporters of Proposition 1 raised $687,785 for the “yes” campaign.  The AFSCME Local 1488 union and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 are among the largest donors.  Disclosure reports show opponents raised $12,487 for the “no” campaign, outraised 55 to one.
  • April 25th, 2014: Friends of Transit files a proposed initiative to increase property taxes in Seattle by $.22 per $1,000 of home value to raise money to pay for existing levels of bus service in the city.
  • May 13th, 2014: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposes a $60 car tab fee increase and a .1% sales tax increase to raise money to pay for existing levels of bus service in Seattle.  New revenue from the tax increases would be used to maintain current levels of bus service. Mayor Murray said the proposal “reflects Seattle values, which is the need to transfer [money] from people driving their cars alone to transit.”  Supporters of a property tax increase announce they will stop gathering signatures for their initiative.
  • UPDATE - June 3rd, 2014: King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee, provides an alternative to cutting 16% of Metro bus service. Under his plan, the County Council would impose service cuts in September, preserving 95% of Metro service. Previous plans to cut service in 2015 would be put on hold. Dembowski’s ordinance states that an “opportunity exists” to use rising revenues, reduce costs, and implement efficiencies to reduce the amount of planned cuts. A vote on measure passed out of committee and moves on to the full council for a vote.

In addition to bus-service taxes, a new parks Taxing District, a new tax-funded daytime children’s program, a street-maintenance levy and a proposal to give tax money to political campaigns may appear on the 2014 ballot.  Washington Policy Center will continue to report on the latest ballot proposals and other announced policy changes as they happen.


Taxes for public transportation

Instead of taxing drivers to pay for public transportation, perhaps businesses should be taxed. Businesses receive the benefits of public transportation as it delivers their workers and shoppers to the business location. It makes sense that those who benefit from a service should pay for it.