- Metro freedom fighters!
There's a brand new kid on the loooong block of Metro-saving funding methods, and this one is more progressive than the last. Call it Plan C 2.0—new, improved, and bold. This proposal, from Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant, raises about $45 million to buy back Seattle bus service from King County, with the revenue coming from an employee head tax ($8 million) and a commercial parking tax ($13 million). The rest is made up by $60 vehicle licensing fees. The first two taxes only require approval from the council itself, while the licensing fees would still have to go to the polls. (And, Licata cautions: Those are rough estimates, and the bill's language hasn't been drawn up yet.)
If you recall, Mayor Ed Murray wants to re-run Proposition 1 in Seattle—a November ballot measure that's pending approval by the City Council. Murray argues that although his measure relies on a 0.1% sales tax increase—a flat tax that hits the poor as hard as the wealthy—and licensing fees, it's the least worst funding plan available, given the funding gaps created by the transit-hating Republicans in the state legislature.
"When you're using a regressive tax for a progressive purpose...it is not regressive," Murray said. He revealed his transit plan after unleashing rhetorical attacks on transit advocate Ben Schiendelman, who'd come up with an alternate proposal that would have raised property taxes to buy back bus service from Metro, a county agency.
However, "there are other options, and they are options that don’t expose our most vulnerable populations to more regressive taxation," Licata said today. He and Sawant both said they support the mayor's plan, but think Plan C 2.0 is a superior choice, particularly in light of Washington's highly regressive overall tax structure.
The Transit Riders Union and 37th District Democrats Chairman Michael Wolfe are both on board. Wolfe said he's glad to see a transit funding plan that ups the tax burden on drivers—the people buying cars, slapping on licenses, and parking them around town—more than on the less-well-off folks who rely more on buses.
"I think Seattle voters have made it clear in the past that they prefer progressive options," transit activist Schiendelman told me today, separately from Licata and Sawant's announcement. "And now that they know that regressive choices are not the last resort, they want to see the most equitable approach possible to funding our infrastructure."
Notably absent from today's press conference was the council's other lefty-progressive: Mike O'Brien. But judging by a prepared statement today from the Transit Riders Union, O'Brien may have been on board with this proposal until recently. He's listed as one of its authors, and sources told me they expect he'll support it when it comes up for a vote.
And, the Transit Riders Union statement makes a great point about financial austerity: Until Olympia restores the region's transit funding or offers Seattle progressive taxation authority, "we will continue to be driven by the logic of artificial scarcity, cornered into the false choices of austerity: Service cuts or regressive taxes?"
Murray's proposal is preferable to service cuts, the union says, but "the city should consider more progressive options first."
The mayor's office hasn't responded to my request for comment on the new proposal, but hopefully they'll consider getting behind it.