Ever since the 2000 legislature revoked our voter approved car tab revenue, transit funding has been unreliable. Before then, transit agencies across the state relied on a combination of more volatile sales tax and less volatile (and more progressive) Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, or MVET, to operate service. Now, with only sales tax, funding fluctuates wildly with the economy, and our bus service is being gutted.
Imagine if all our highways and large arterials had to be closed a few hours a day, or even one day a week! When transit service is so dramatically cut, the elderly, the poor, the visually impaired, and many others face a similar situation, cut off from jobs, family, services, much of the world.
This year, with such a universal threat, our transit agencies have come together to present a unified demand.
An earlier legislature chose to cut the MVET. This legislature must now step up to solve the problem, and the solution is easily within reach. Our state only provides 2% of our transit agencies’ budgets – compared to a national average of 17%. The state will be relying on Puget Sound voters to pass a transportation package, and we’ve spoken before: We don’t want wider highways. We want more fast, reliable, high capacity transit.
Now, a line in the sand has been drawn. A statewide package must contain $400 million annually in direct transit operations funding, to be apportioned to agencies by an already established formula. That’s the level that will shore up Pierce Transit, keep Metro from having to make huge cuts, and even assist Sound Transit a tiny bit in implementing light rail. As part of a statewide package, direct funding would avoid fighting every local battle individually, and provide a rock for the next economic crisis.
The “Keep Transit Moving” request is worth a read. 31 agencies across the state have one ask. It’s still a little timid – allowing for 25% of a smaller package if the $400 million/year isn’t in the cards. But the Republicans in Olympia would provide less at their peril – major cuts in Pierce and King counties in 2014 would bring angry voters to the polls, leaving them little chance of keeping their tenuous grasp on power.
Olympia must fix the problem their predecessors created by cutting the voter-approved MVET. The resilient, sustainable, efficient transportation system of the future starts with well funded mass transit.