Why is our Metro service facing a 27% cut in 2014?

In case you could not find a clear and simple answer of why King County Metro may be facing 17% cuts in 2014, and why West Seattle is facing a 27% cut, we wanted to explain. There are various moving pieces here. This will explain them all, and then tie them together as it’s explained.

Home rule: Washington is not a “home rule” state, broadly. In some states, local counties (like King County) and municipalities (like Seattle) can do various things on their own to raise tax revenue without involving their state. For example, a county or city may be able to either legislatively (through their county or city council) or through a ballot measure raise a tax. We can do that here–but for almost every situation, we need the permission of the State Legislature in Olympia to do it. The process is: Olympia says, “King County, you have permission to either create Tax ABC,” which is rare, or they will say, “King County, you have our permission to ask your voters if you can create Tax XYZ,” which is far more common.

  • Short version: We need permission from people in other counties to raise taxes on ourselves.

Tim Eyman: Eyman is a conservative activist who has created various anti-tax and anti-government measures using our ballot and initiative system over the years. Some of his measures that have passed have over the years stripped King County Metro and similar public services (Eyman has testified in public on his opposition to public bus systems) of their funding sources. Historically, they used things like MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) and fees on license plate renewals. Due to some ballot measures issued through Eyman’s work, these agencies were forced to use regressive taxes such as sales taxes instead. With the recession that ran from 2008-2011 and being forced into worse economic models due to outside interference, these agencies lost massive funding and issued massive cuts. It also forced agencies like Metro to delay on some other funding rather than cut more service earlier. All of that has come home to roost now. This article on Seattle Transit Blog, here, explains the Metro financial situation in great detail.

  • Short version: Eyman initiatives combined with being forced to fund Metro via sales tax gutted it’s cash flow and reserves.

The Majority Coalition Caucus: first, please read the Wikipedia article on this subject, here. For a less objective but more detailed political overview of this, please read “The Four Horsemen of the Buspocalypse,” on the Stranger. Warning: it’s The Stranger, so there is lots of swearing. Essentially, four key Washington State Senators here in King County are holding up passage of a transportation package that would allow King County to fund itself. They are:

  • Steve Litzow (E-mail, phone: (360) 786-7641), R-41st (Mercer Island-Bellevue-Newcastle)
  • Andy Hill (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7672), R-45th (Finn Hill, Cottage Lake, parts of Redmond, Kirkland, Duvall, Sammamish)
  • Joe Fain (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7692), R-47th (Auburn-Covington-East Hill)
  • Rodney Tom (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7694) , D-48th (Medina-Redmond-Kirkland-Bellevue)

They each have various political reasons that they are doing this. Depending on who you speak to, you’ll hear a variety of different theories and explanations: Ideological opposition to public transit; fear of Tea Party challengers; intending to pass the transit funding legislation but “holding a gun to its head” in exchange for other concessions. In the end, all that matters is that for us, in King County, it’s creating massive unnecessary, unwanted, and unhelpful upheaval and uncertainty. Governor Inslee is calling a special session in roughly 48 hours to work on this problem.

  • Short version: Four state senators from our area are threatening us with up to 17% cuts to King County Metro.

The extra 10% in cuts for West Seattle: West Seattle, ever since the SR-99/Viaduct/Deep Bore Tunnel construction programs began, has been receiving an additional injection of money from the State of Washington to King County Metro. This money is specifically only for extra bus service to and from West Seattle. Without this extra service, from all of the state-sponsored construction that is in our path, our commutes to and from downtown could be as much as 30 minutes longer each way. The construction projects and tunnel–as originally legislated from Olympia–were supposed to be done in the Summer of 2014. Currently, the best guess is sometime in 2017 to 2018. However, that extra money, to keep us from being effectively trapped in our peninsula? It expires in that original legislation in seven months. This is why West Seattle is getting 27% in cuts, while the rest of King County will only get 17% in cuts. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition and some members of the City of Seattle Council are working on this problem. Even if the King County level 17% cuts are completely mitigated and stopped, right now West Seattle alone will still get a 10% cut.

  • Short version: Unless the Governor or the Legislature does something, West Seattle gets a double-barrel of cuts compared to everyone else, because of the State not keeping their commitment to us.

What can I do to help?

  • Contact the four Senators: Click on the links above for each of the four State Senators and mail them.
  • Have someone in their areas contact them: Even better, do you know anyone that lives in those districts and areas of theirs? Can you get them to call or mail those four? Representatives will take feedback from their own constituents far more seriously than feedback from people in other areas.
  • Join the WSTC: You can also join the West Seattle Transportation Coalition as a volunteer or by endorsing us.
Updated: December 2, 2013 — 8:51 am
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