An unfortunate consequence of the relentless simplification in campaigns is the reduction of revenue projections to a single number. Metro had to settle on a representative figure – 17% cuts – to produce a tangible example of what the cuts would look like, which left it open to some unseemly Times editorial board nitpicking and a trivial update from Metro.
In reality, the revenue projections which spawn these service estimates originate with King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis, and like all projections they actually reflect a range of possibilities. According to County Budget Director Dwight Dively, any revenue projection from that office is “at the 65% confidence level. In other words, there is a 65% probability that actual revenue will be at least as much as is forecast. This was a policy adopted by the Forecast Council.”
This isn’t a pro- or anti-Prop. 1 point. Metro’s priority is to preserve current service level, so it’s entirely reasonable (and responsible) that King County would err on the side of caution. In any case, the chances are quite high that revenue will either exceed or fall short of projections, that’s the nature of projections. If Prop 1 fails, the cuts might be above or below 17%, with more weight on the low side. Similarly, if the measure passes Metro might come up a little bit short, but it’s twice as likely that there is some scope to build up a rainy day fund, make long-deferred capital investments to reduce operating costs, or add service on the most overcrowded routes. This is a good “problem” to have.
In any case, this isn’t about “lies” and “promises.” Any agency with highly variable revenues can’t make precise predictions about how much it will be able to spend. The only way to avoid this uncertainty is to join Metro’s lobbying for predictable revenue sources like Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and the Vehicle License Fee that is on the ballot next week.