Flanked by over a dozen county and city leaders representing Seattle, the Eastside, and the South Sound, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced this afternoon that voters from Vashon to Snoqualmie will get the opportunity this spring to decide whether to raise revenue to prevent draconian service cuts to Metro and address an increasingly dangerous road maintenance backlog.
Constantine and the King County Council intend to use existing statutory authority to form a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) and place before voters a package that would raise around $130 million a year for Metro Transit and county roads. Voters will be asked in an April special election to approve a $60 vehicle fee and a one tenth of one percent increase in the sales tax.
The cost to the average King County household would be around $11 a month.
Sixty percent of the revenue would go to Metro to prevent existing routes and service from being gutted, and the remaining forty percent would go to the county’s beleaguered and badly underfunded road services division.
County and city leaders have been lobbying the Legislature for years to pass a new transportation package to address the region’s needs, but a first attempt did not come until last year, when the House of Representatives advanced and subsequently approved a roads-friendly package on a mostly party-line vote.
The Senate did not take up the House’s package, nor it did it produce its own legislation during the regular session or the three special sessions that followed. When the House’s Democratic leadership asked Senate Republicans if they would consider a standalone bill to give King County the authority to levy a motor vehicle excise tax to raise money for Metro, Republicans said no.
Instead of producing legislation, the Republicans and Rodney Tom pledged to hold an autumn “listening tour” to gather input from voters. That, at least, they did.
At multiple stops, including in Seattle and Bellevue, they were loudly and unequivocally prodded to act by their constituents. But subsequent negotiations with the House and Governor Inslee went nowhere, because of their ridiculous demands. As a result, it looks like there will be no statewide transportation package at all… at least not until after the midterm elections.
King County leaders say they are done waiting. They’re tired of the dysfunction and dithering in the Senate that has become a hallmark of the Rodney Tom error.
They’ve had enough.
“King County has stepped up to every challenge set before us,” Executive Constantine told a packed conference room at Metro headquarters. “We’ve done everything within our means to keep people moving. We are out of time for a statewide solution that includes a local option. We must move forward on our own.”
Rodney Tom, Curtis King, and other Republican senators have admitted that they oppose simply giving King County new revenue authority because they don’t want the county to act on its own. Their strategy has been (and remains) to hold Metro and its riders hostage to their road warrior agenda because their own constituency is anti-tax. As Constantine noted, “They want to keep us hungry to pass a statewide transportation package.” His patience has run out, and so has ours.
King County leaders would prefer to adopt or put before voters a local motor vehicle excise tax to fund Metro and road repairs. But since it doesn’t look like the Legislature will give them the authority they’ve long been asking for, they’re moving forward with plans to create a Transportation Benefit District. In addition to the vehicle fee and sales tax increase, they’re also planning on raising fares.
Anticipating that an increase in fares, the sales tax, and vehicle fees will most impact those with the least, county leaders have come up with a really smart idea: Create a discounted fare of $1.50 for those who make less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Youth, seniors, and students are already eligible for reduced fares, but there is no discount for low income families.
“Making transit more affordable for working people is both innovative and the right thing to do. A reduced fare will help tens of thousands of our neighbors get to work and school, and I urge the county council to take swift and positive action to enact this proposal,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, who spoke following Constantine’s presentation.
It appears that Constantine already has six of the nine votes he needs to put the Move King County Now proposal on the ballot in April.
Four of the Council’s five Democrats appeared at today’s news conference (Larry Phillips, Larry Gossett, Joe McDermott, and Rod Dembowski). The fifth, Dave Upthegrove, will also be an aye vote. In addition, Republican Jane Hague was at today’s news conference and publicly backed the measure. That’s six aye votes.
There are three other Republican members of the King County Council: Reagan Dunn, Pete von Reichbauer, and Kathy Lambert. Of the three, Lambert is perhaps the most likely to join Hague in voting aye. But regardless of how they vote, this proposal is bound to end up in front of the people of King County.
Leaders from King County’s many cities were also well-represented at today’s event, including the mayors of Redmond (John Marchione, also the new chair of the Sound Cities Association), Bellevue (Claudia Balducci), and Auburn (Nancy Backus).
Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen represented the Emerald City.
“We have done everything possible to convince our state legislature to pass a transportation package and they have failed to act,” Rasmussen said. “We, as local leaders, are united in preventing Metro bus service cuts, and in preventing further deterioration of our roads and bridges. We must act now to have the transit service and transportation system that is critical to our region’s prosperity and livability.