This time next year King County Metro could very well be finalizing a 17 percent cut in bus service, eliminating as much as a third of its routes while reducing or revising service on another third. And many of the routes left unchanged won't be left untouched, absorbing higher ridership and more crowding.
And this isn't some scare tactic. These are the cuts Metro will likely make based on the analysis in its 2012 Service Guidelines Report should the state legislature fail to approve the local option taxing authority necessary to close a looming $75 million budget gap. And days from the end of regular legislative session, that authorization has yet to come.
"All we ask from the legislature is the freedom to responsibly invest," explains King County Executive Dow Constantine. "King County is prosperous because of investments in things like bus service and roads," says Constantine, "and with that investment the rest of the state will prosper."
Specifically, county and city leaders have asked the legislature for the authority to impose up to a 1.5 percent MVET (a tax on the value of your car). Revenue would be split 60/40 between Metro and roads, with the road money distributed to the cities and unincorporated King County proportionate to population. At it's full value, a 1.5 percent MVET would raise about $85 million a year for Metro and another $55 million to help close the region's growing deferred road maintenance backlog.
"We have a very significant backlog of maintenance needs," explains Constantine chief of staff Sung Yang. "And the longer you put off maintaining the roads, the bigger the cost."
The transportation funding package passed by the Democratic-controlled state house includes a local MVET option—for King County only—but with the requirement that it be approved by a countywide vote of the people. "We would have clearly preferred the ability to do this councilmanically," says Yang. But the Republican-controlled senate so far hasn't done even that.
"If there's a transportation package, I think it will include the MVET," predicts deposed senate majority leader Ed Murray (D-Seattle). The snag in the senate, says Murray, is his Republican colleagues' reluctance to approve the ten cent a gallon gas tax increase necessary to fund the proposed $8.4 billion transportation budget. And without a transportation funding package, what are the chances of the senate approving the Metro-saving MVET option? "I don't think enough votes would be there," speculates Murray.
At this late point, with the clock winding down, if the legislature is going to approve the MVET option it'll have to happen in a special session. And if they don't get it done before adjourning for the year? Expect Metro service cuts to begin by the fall of 2014. For if we miss this November's ballot there just won't be the time to approve and implement an MVET before the temporary $20 "congestion reduction charge" expires at the end of June, 2014. And bother drivers and bus riders alike will suffer.
"Forty-three percent of people going into and out of downtown Seattle do so on transit," says Constantine. Some of these people won't be able to get to their schools or their jobs. Others will just climb behind the wheels of their cars, making traffic congestion that much worse for everybody. "The vast majority of our transit users have cars at home," says Constantine.
The ultimate irony is that the legislature's failure to allow voters here in King County the opportunity to tax ourselves to pay for the local transportation infrastructure we need to prosper, could end up making future state budgets even harder to balance. "King County is half of the state's economy, and the failure to invest in the economy of King County means the economy of the state will suffer," says Constantine, who remains hopeful that the senate will do the right thing. "Assuming each of these people ran for office wanting to do right for their constituents," that is.
An assumption that in itself assumes a level analytic skill not generally on display in Olympia.