Making good on last month’s promise to act in the event that the Republican-controlled state Senate continued to block legislation allowing King County to save Metro and KCDOT from evisceration, county lawmakers voted unanimously today to take the first step towards putting a fallback plan before voters in April.
The Council used its existing authority under state law to create what’s called a Transportation Benefit District… TBD for short. TBDs can be formed by cities and counties to pay for transportation improvements within their jurisdiction. Through the TBD, the county can go to voters with a proposal to protect Metro Transit service and address the county’s immense road maintenance backlog.
The proposal the county intends to submit to voters was formally unveiled last month at a news conference headlined by County Executive Dow Constantine.
It is informally known as “Plan B” because the county was supposed to receive the authority to levy a motor vehicle excise tax as part of a statewide transportation package so it could invest in Metro and KCDOT.
Unfortunately, the Washington State Senate, which is controlled by Rodney Tom, Andy Hill, Curtis King, and Senate Republicans, is hopelessly gridlocked due to internal squabbling and hasn’t put any transportation plan up for a vote.
Metro will have to begin slashing service later this year if it doesn’t get help. That’s why the Move King County Now effort (which NPI is a part of) was formed.
“With formation of a countywide Transportation Benefit District, King County now has a potential tool for funding preservation of Metro Transit service and maintenance of local roads and transportation infrastructure,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips in a news release explaining the council’s vote.
“Without new revenue, King County faces transit service cuts of up to seventeen percent and at least a $50 million annual gap for the maintenance of county roads.”
King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski added, “As we move forward, I am committed to ensuring that the TBD uses the authority granted by law for rebates of vehicle license fees to low-income taxpayers to ensure that any funding measure is as progressive in nature as possible.”
The nine-member King County Council, consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans, will serve as the TBD’s board, and will have the power to actually turn “Plan B” into Proposition 1 in time for the printing of ballots for the April 22nd special election. (State law allows local jurisdictions to hold special elections on fixed dates in either February or April, or concurrently with the winnowing or general elections in August and November of each year).
The Legislature has a very small window of time left to act before the TBD sends Proposition 1 to the ballot. But no one seems to think they will. And if history is any indication, they won’t. The House proposed a transportation package last spring, and actually voted it out, but in the Senate, it was amateur hour all year long.
As I noted on Friday, Senate Republicans simply can’t agree among themselves on a package… in part because some of them are reflexively opposed to any new taxes to pay for anything. House Democrats and Governor Inslee have said they’re done negotiating until Republicans get their act together. But that’ll happen when George W. Bush admits his administration invaded Iraq based on false pretenses.
“Plan B” is thus really “Plan A”, because the Legislature has not produced even an outline of a statewide transportation packages that both houses could agree to.
The inaction in the statehouse may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Many legislators are what we like to call road warriors — not the kind of people who love to travel and work from wherever they are, but the kind of people who like to spend money constructing new highways or arterials and making existing ones wider.
We can’t afford to keep doing that.
What was on the table on 2012 was mostly road projects. Even the House’s transportation plan was auto-centric. Move King County Now, on the other hand, is a much more sensible plan. It would save all of the Metro routes that are on the chopping block, and it would fund basic road maintenance (think snowplows, resurfacing, replacing structurally deficient bridges).
We at NPI strongly believe in a “Safety First” approach (it was the motto of the political action committee we formed to help defeat I‑912 in 2005) and we commend King County leaders for stepping up and showing real leadership to address our transportation funding crisis. We can’t wait any longer.
Since the Senate won’t act, it’s time for us to take matters here into our own hands. We have a chance both to save our Metro bus service and get KCDOT on the road to recovery (pun intended). Let’s make it happen. Let’s Move King County Now!