As expected, Mayor Ed Murray announced today a Seattle-only tax package that would buy back 90 percent of bus service reductions financially strapped King County Metro has proposed for in-city routes. The $60 vehicle license fee and tenth of a cent sales tax increase would raise approximately $45 million a year—$42 million to restore and preserve Seattle bus routes, and $3 million towards a “Regional Partnership Fund” intended to attract matching funds from surrounding cities to spend toward preserving intercity commuter routes.
This is of course the same tax package rejected by county voters in Proposition 1 last, relying on the same “transportation benefit district” authority the state grants cities and counties. (I’ve dubbed it Proposition 1.1.) The only real differences between the two measures are that Prop 1 would have spent 40 percent of revenue on roads, whereas Prop 1.1 is dedicated entirely toward transit—and of course that Prop 1.1 will be voted on only in Seattle, where voters overwhelmingly favored Prop 1 by a better than two to one margin.
Murray was prodded into pushing forth his own proposal by a competing initiative to buy back Seattle bus service via a $30 million a year property tax increase. “We are thrilled that Seattle voters will have a chance to vote to preserve their bus service this fall,” initiative sponsor Ben Schiendelman of Friends of Transit replied via email. “With several progressive revenue sources available, we hope the council will take a serious look at all funding options before putting transit on the ballot.”
Schiendelman says that his organization has suspended signature gathering. Mission accomplished.
As for me, I’m agnostic as to the revenue source, as none of the options are great. “It is not ideal,” admitted Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen at this morning’s press conference. “We sought a motor vehicle excise tax from the state. They failed us.”
They certainly did.
Murray and others repeatedly stressed that this was just a temporary solution until the legislature grants Metro a viable regional funding option. But I’m not so sure. Given the thrashing Prop 1 took by county voters, I don’t know that a more progressive MVET would have passed either. And I’m not hopeful that we’ll get MVET authority out of Olympia until the Democrats retake control of the state senate, an iffy prospect this November. “This is really up to voters,” offered state Senator Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle). Good luck with that.
But the good news is that there appears to be strong support within Seattle from both the electorate and our elected leaders to tax ourselves to maintain crucial bus service. So while the suburbs may suffer, Seattle will attempt to at least take care of its own.
TANGENTIAL ASIDE: What is up with Seattle Times headline writers today? “County, city take variety of routes on bus rescue“…? No, they’ve taken the exact same route: cities buying back bus service hours. Not as bad as the Obamacare headline, but do the headline writers bother reading their own paper?