Seattle leaders’ tax-increase plan to save Metro Transit is a solution looking for a problem

July 25, 2014

Seattle voters will have their say in November on another tax plan to “save” Metro bus service. Last week, the Seattle City Council voted to send the tax-increase plan to the November ballot with the following text:

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District’s Proposition 1 concerns funding for Metro Transit service.

If approved, this proposition would fund Metro Transit service benefiting the City of Seattle, by preventing planned service cuts and, if funds allow, enhancing transit service, at least until state or regional authorities provide replacement revenues.  The measure would authorize an annual vehicle license fee up to an additional $60 per registered vehicle with a $20 rebate for low-income individuals and authorize up to a 0.1% sales and use tax, both expiring by 12/31/2020, all as proposed in Resolution 12.

Should this proposition be approved?



After voters rejected King County Metro Transit’s ballot measure last April, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the resulting cuts to Metro bus service constituted a “crisis” and introduced his plan to stave off 90% of the negative impacts – an annual $60 car tab fee increase and a 0.1% sales tax increase. We looked at the Mayor’s proposal months ago and found that, while the tax mechanisms are similar to the King County ballot measure, the Seattle measure would leave taxpayers worse off by paying more to receive less than they would have under King County’s ballot measure, and subsidizing unproductive and inefficient transit.

The crisis, however, appears to be over. On Monday, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance to preserve 96% of Metro service by shelving future cuts in bus service beyond September. In addition, King County’s recent sales tax forecasts show little fluctuation in the record windfall revenues previously forecasted. Yet, despite the recent actions of the County Council to preserve the large majority of bus service in King County, Seattle leaders appear to be pressing forward with their plan to increase taxes to “save” or “enhance” bus service that may or may not be cut.

The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom pointed out the uncertainty yesterday, saying  “Monday’s compromise [by the County Council] doesn’t immediately alter Seattle’s November ballot measure for a city-only increase in sales and car-tab taxes, to replace a now-unclear amount of bus service to be lost within the city.”

In other words, Seattle leaders have sent the public a ballot measure to raise taxes without knowing exactly how it would be spent or what it would be spent on. This is not good public policy and similar uncertainty was a contributing factor to voter’s rejection of King County Metro's ballot measure last April. Instead, Seattle leaders should call a timeout before proposing to raise taxes as a solution to a problem that may not exist.  



This is misleading. The King County Council did not "shelve" plans to cut service, they merely kicked the can down the road.

They approved the executive's proposed September 2014 cuts and the number of hours that was associated with the February 2015 proposed cuts, just lacking the specific routes. The county council is waiting until their budget season (this fall) to decide about other cuts relative their their finances. I believe it was July 18th that the council received a sales tax report that wasn't so rosy, meaning that the odds of most of the planned cuts for June and September 2015 would go forward.

The wild card is a committee that's studying alternatives surrounding, among other things, fare policy. For instance, they are said to be considering eliminating paper transfers, something that most if not all of the other transit agencies in the region have done, which has saved them printing costs, reduced fare abuse, and spiked the use of the electronic card over paying cash. If I'm remembering correctly, Metro has estimated they'd save $4 million in printing costs by eliminating transfers. I think they'd save a considerable amount in the other two areas I've mentioned as well (abuse, fare collection costs).

Thanks for your comment

I agree with King County's push to modernize their fare collection system, especially with the savings that come along with it.

The sales tax forecast (linked in the above post) were not too different than the previous forecast a few months ago - namely that King County Metro is still receiving windfall revenues they did not expect. In fact, in the previous forecast, Metro was receiving a $32 million windfall this year. The newest forecast shows an uptick to almost $34 million in windfall revenues.

To learn more about the planned cuts by the Council, see below: