This morning Seattle Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference on the city’s plan to save Metro bus service and collaborate with other regional municipalities. Once approved by the City Council, the measure will ask Seattle voters for approval of a $60 car tab fee and 0.1 percent sales tax, the same funding options that Proposition 1 proposed for all of King County. However, none of the funds raised from this measure would go to roads and some would go to low-income and regional bus service.
Funding will not come in time to prevent the first round of cuts in September. The raised funds, estimated to be $45 million per year, will preserve 90 percent of the proposed cuts to bus service within Seattle city limits. 2 percent of that funding will go towards a rebate on the vehicle fee for low-income people, just like Prop 1. And $3 million will go toward a regional fund for preserving service between partner cities that match that funding, but so far no such partners have been announced. Some current Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) funds will pay to preserve “night owl” service that helps late night workers get home.
Murray emphasized that is not a Seattle takeover of Metro. I called for a similar action after Prop 1 failed, but not a complete takeover. The mayor also said the tax and fee will not have expiration dates, but the city will work to find a sustainable long-term funding source as long as possible.
The campaign for Initiative 118, the property tax levy that would buy back Seattle bus service, has been suspended by transit activist Ben Schiendelman. He praised the city for coming up with its own measure and said having two measures on the ballot would be untenable. At the press conference, Mayor Murray said an additional property tax would also politically unwise; the city will be asking for property taxes to pay for a parks district and universal pre-kindergarten later this year, and it is already known that Seattle voters approve of Prop 1. A renewal vote of the Bridging the Gap levy will take place next year for roads, sidewalks, and bike lanes.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, who has been leading the effort to preserve Metro funding, said the region must act cooperatively to retain a competitive economy and preserve the environment; transit service is vital for hundreds of thousands of commuters and keeps cars off already-clogged highways and streets. Constantine announced yesterday the county’s own proposal for cities to purchase back bus service. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen conceded that the tax and fee are not progressive, but until the state legislature, specifically the Republican-controlled senate, Metro cannot use less regressive funding sources like a motor-vehicle excise tax (MVET).
The president of the Downtown Seattle Association and director of the Seattle-King County Coalition thanked Seattleites for approving Prop 1 and regional leaders for coming together on this complex issue. A representative from Transportation Choices Coalition declared, “now is not the time to be cutting bus service.”
In response to reporters’ questions, Murray explained that a fare increase is not feasible because the city doesn’t control those and fares have already gone up in recent years. It was made clear that a secure funding source will need to come from the state and a balanced package that all statewide voters can agree on; Seattle transportation affects the entire state, the obvious example being freight from eastern Washington getting stuck in Seattle traffic. Maintaining, and eventually expanding, transit service is critical to the Puget Sound’s quality of life.
Stay tuned to this space for updates.