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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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