For several months now, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Councilmember Larry Phillips and other county leaders have told the public they will cut neighborhood bus routes if they do not receive more revenue from regressive taxes. King County officials say that without the new regressive taxes, they plan to cut 550,000 hours of bus service in many neighborhoods. Their planned cuts would fall hardest in many low-income neighborhoods across the county.
The public has agreed to pay higher taxes for increased Metro services before. In 2000 and 2006, Metro officials promised 1.2 million hours of bus service if voters approved of new taxes. Voters did so, but county leaders only delivered about a third of the bus service they had promised.
But those were typical ballot measures. In King County, voters are not as tax-averse as in other areas of the state, and we often approve tax increases for new or expanded services. From parks to schools to ambulances, our local communities often approve higher taxes if important public services are expanded to meet our needs.
Proposition 1, now on the April ballot, is different. The measure would only maintain current levels of bus service, not expand it. It’s like a rent increase, the renter simply pays more to keep same living space and amenities. It makes this ballot measure different; people may not want new regressive taxes, but that doesn’t mean they want cuts to bus service.
The good news is that Metro’s financial outlook continues to improve. Without Proposition 1, Metro is receiving record revenues this year, including a $32 million sales tax windfall above previous estimates. Better management of rising revenues should allow King County leaders to stop their planned service cuts.
King County leaders also have another good opportunity to avoid service cuts and restore the public trust. Transit agencies are often locked into long-term labor contracts that lack the flexibility needed to adjust to changing economic conditions. But in December the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, which represents most King County Metro employees, rejected a generous contract offer and is currently working without a contract. King County leaders could use this opportunity to open a dialogue with union executives and approve a contract that avoids painful cuts in bus service.
The Municipal League also gave Metro officials six recommendations that Metro could use to improve their operations without asking for more tax money. These recommendations include scaling back discounts and utilizing public/private partnerships to keep bus service on the road.
With better management of rising revenue, using the window of opportunity to open talks with labor leaders, and by implementing the practical recommendations of the Municipal League, King County could continue providing the same level of bus service to our communities without raising taxes.