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[UPDATE 2/16 7:30 am: Publicola says the bill is in trouble in the House.

UPDATE 2/16 12:00 pm: To lookup your legislator go here.]

HB 2855 is the bill that would allow a temporary $20 increase in automobile license fees and therefore avoid budget cuts in many of Washington’s transit agencies. This $20 increase can be enabled by a simple vote of each agency’s governing board (in King County’s case, the County Council).  A further $30 is available to certain counties (basically, Puget Sound*) with a public vote.  Bertolet says the $20 fee would provide Metro $28m/year, or about 224,000 service hours.  We have 50,000 hours in service cuts planned through 2011, and about 385,000 in the two years after that.  Arithmetic tells us a $40 fee should put Metro right on track for its pre-recession plans.

I don’t have the revenue figures for the CT district on hand, but a tax rise should enable the agency to buy back at least the elimination of Sunday Service, which would take about 48,000 service hours to restore completely.  Most, but I don’t believe all, other transit agencies in the State actually have some sales tax authority remaining, although sales tax increases require a public vote.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the last day for it to get it out of the House.  Transportation Choices has an action page allowing you to email your legislators.  If it passes the House there are still obstacles in the Senate and the Governor’s office. Senate Transporation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) is reportedly opposed, and Governor Gregoire chose to veto a $20 measure last year.

Anyway, click on the link to contact your representatives.

* Population > 1m; population > 500,000, adjacent to > 1m; population 200,000, adjacent to > 500,000.  The Venn diagram suggests the second category is entirely enclosed by the third, but whatever…

59 Replies to “Crunch Time for HB 2855”

  1. And what prompted this all of a sudden?

    Seriously, where’s the transparency with regard to the taxes and fees that Washington State already collects.

    Is there an online site? I think we pay more than enough for transit.

    1. Come ride the 545 sometime on the morning rush towards the NE 40th Freeway Station and tell my coworkers we don’t need transit (yeah: the bus can be crush-loaded with us Softies)

      1. 40 billion in profit per quarter means you guys can fund the whole transit system for the rest of us. C’mon, sell some more Win7 netbooks.

      2. Jessica, that’s good advice, I try to observe what is operating, so I know how some of it is used when I comment online about it. Some routes on paper seem odd, like Metro 118, but I took that one to Tacoma Friday(trying out the ORCA card, with assistance from the ferries Tillikum(holding down Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth services) and Sealth(filling in for the Rhododendron on the Pt. Defiance-Tahlequah run)). It was during rush hour, but the bus on the 118, a 40ft low-floor, filled up at the dock. Another service I rode, to see what we were paying for, was the Vashon Foot Ferry, the three round trip sailings do pretty well, to the point they have options posted for alternative transit if the boat is too full(It only seats 149-150 passengers).

    2. And what prompted this all of a sudden?

      The Metro funding crisis? Draconian cuts at most transit agencies.

      1. Cuts? I didn’t see any cuts announced.

        Gregoire is playing it both ways.

        She doesn’t want to cut, yet she wants to raise taxes.

        It seems like everyday, the Tax Roaches come out of the woodwork with some new scheme to bilk the Puget Sounder.

      2. Try catching a bus in Kitsap County on Sunday. Problem is, you can’t because Sunday Service, including paratransit and the Port Orchard-Bremerton floating bus(Passenger only ferry), was cut last year. Kitsap Transit Bus, Paratransit and Bremerton-Port Orchard Ferry run limited service on Saturdays. On the weekday service, it is geared to the commute.

      3. “She doesn’t want to cut, yet she wants to raise taxes.” That’s the opposite of playing it both ways… Gregoire is playing it one way. She doesn’t want to cut, so she’s raising taxes. The Republicans want it both ways, and that can’t happen.

      4. She’s giving the state options. One is a balanced budget with no tax increases, which means major cuts. The other is selected tax increases to eliminate some of the cuts. Naturally she has a preference and argues for it, but what’s wrong with giving the state choices? That sounds like a good idea.

    3. I don’t think we should accept the premise of your question. It wasn’t prompted all of a sudden. A similar bill passed last year. That bill passed but was vetoed by the governor; this year’s bill has certain changes that should alleviate the governor’s concerns.

      We have an open legislative process, so one could have heard of this bill months ago by following the news closely enough. Or reading this blog. :)

      Also, please choose one handle, Blue Swan/Crazy Man/T. Undretti, so our readers can follow who is posting.

      1. Yes, but where is the transparency?

        Show me exactly where each dollar is going to now.

        Show me who is getting paid what…for what.

        Where is the website?

      2. Swan, this bill does not raise a single dollar in taxes. It allows counties and transit agencies to apply a $20 fee, and higher with a public vote. You can speak to the King County Council if the bill passes to develop “the website” if/once they decide to raise the fee.

        PS – Please do not indignantly order me to do research for you. This is not an angry town hall or Sound Politics and we do not appreciate that tone here.

      3. We have a fully open and transparent government – particularly when it comes to budgeting and spending. In fact, it’s a matter of law.

        All that data is available to any citizen that wishes to take the time request it and understand it.

    4. This is a bill, not something that came up “all of a sudden.” Each year, the Legislature introduces, debates, and passes bills, and this is one of them. There is not much in the way of specifics in the bill, as it gives a lot of leeway to transit agencies to decide where they want the money to go. If it passes, then it won’t go into effect for a while, but once it does, you can talk to your local transit agency about what you think they should do.

    5. Actually, given the transit needs in the PS region, I’d say that we DON’T pay enough for transit around here.

      One can quibble about whether or not Metro could run more efficiently if they got the politics out of the KC Council (junk the 40/40/20?), but the bottom line is that something needs to be done soon just to maintain current service levels, and I don’t think there is any doubt that current service levels are inadequate.

  2. Reps Contacted.

    Off topic, but of interest to STB staff: feeling better from hospital visit; but still required to stay in bed (it’s thanks to my netbook I’m able to comment right now). I’d rather not talk about why I was there, but I’m feeling better

  3. That’s an odd way of limiting this to relatively urban counties. It looks like Yakima County gets included in the third category, since it’s adjacent to Pierce County. I’m also curious if Clark County is included as it’s next to a county (Multnomah) with more than 500K. The language of the bill doesn’t seem to require that the adjacent county be in Washington state.

    The third category by itself would be sufficient to include the same counties and transit agencies. It would be simpler just to say that any transit agency serving a county with 200K residents can have a vote on the additional $30. That would possibly extend this benefit to Whatcom County, which has a 2008 population estimate just under 200K and could soon pass that threshold.

    1. Ah, I just figured out why the second category. Spokane County has some 460K residents, but is not next to a county with one million. So writing the rule this way excludes Spokane County. The third category (greater than 200K, next to 500K) excludes Spokane County with its current population. This was probably written this way to keep Eastern Washington legislators happy. That still doesn’t explain why Yakima is included.

  4. This is a critical bill – thanks for posting this STB!

    No one wants to pay taxes & fees, but we need to look at what we get in return – in this case, a way for people to get around without driving. A bad economy is exactly the time we need more transit, not less.

    1. Once again, I hate this salve of using a general sentiment (“feed the children”) as a way of selling some vague tax whose purpose and delivery are defined by politicians in the back room.

      It stinks of the most deceptive forms of marketing (the private sector stuff that Democrats are always complaining about).

      The question is: who gets what and why?

      1. This bill must pass a democratically-elected legislative body and get signed by a democratically-elected governor. If King County wants to implement the revenue source, it must pass a democratically-elected county council. If the county wants to raise more than $20 per car, the plan must pass before voters — direct democracy.

        No one gets anything yet, since the bill doesn’t actually raise any revenue for the state. If the King County Council raises the car tab fee, then the money will go to Metro in a way the democratically-elected council will determine probably based on Metro’s wishes. All the money may go to service, but some could go to capital projects like bus stops. The council’s plan will probably be posted online before it’s passed, as is typically the case.

        Great, so now that you understand the details I’m sure your comments will be very sane and sober from here on out.

      2. I don’t get what you are complaining about.

        The tax isn’t “vague” it is a vehicle license fee of a defined amount. The money would go to pay for transit. If you haven’t noticed a lot of transit agencies are having to make draconian cuts to service. This tax would help them make up the revenue shortfall.

        The only other revenue most transit agencies have access to are a sales tax capped at 0.9%, farebox revenue, and potentially some federal grants to partially fund some capital projects or vehicle purchases.

        If you don’t like it, well you can ask your legislators not to vote for the bill, or if it passes and is signed by the Governor you can ask the members of the governing body of your local transit agency not to use the taxing authority.

      3. Here’s my fear.

        What is “transit”. Is it the capital costs of LINK. Is it the security guards? Is the the highly paid senior executives (I read recently that some government workers can retire at the age of 50 with a $3 million dollar pension).

        I’m all for more buses.

        I’m all for “transit” as in trains.

        I want to pay a fair, but not excessive rate for the service (as in anything I buy or purchase).

      4. What the money can be spent on is specified in the bill. But from what I can see it covers anything the agency is currently allowed to fund (though there are some restrictions regarding passenger ferry service). Even if the bill said the money could only be used for service hours the effect would be the same as the agency would use money from elsewhere to pay for things you might not like such as employee benefits.

      5. Crazy Blue Swan,

        My reading of the bill is that Sound Transit is not eligible for this tax. This solely impacts County bus agencies like Metro and Community Transit.

      6. Who gets what and why??
        Each trasit user gets about a $160 donation towards transit from car owners. (PSRC Trends, Jan 2010)
        Transit’ mode share is about 10%. Autos about 82%. That’s still 8:1.
        Why?, because transit is good and cars are bad, so they get to pay some more, besides, transit is tapped out at 9/10% sales tax.

  5. Did anyone notice that the image with the alt text “Pierce Transit Bus” is of a Community Transit bus?

    1. I did! And I fixed it. I was debating between a PT bus image and a CT one and decided to go with the CT bus but forgot to change the alt txt. Duh!

  6. So i wonder if ORCA is breaking even for the transit agencies that are participating? Basecally, the amount of revenue it brings in to the agency under the funding formulas/agreements vs. the amount expended in system maintenace. probally too early to really tell as of yet though. I also have to wonder if ridership patterns/trends have changed with ORCA and with LINK’s implementation. Will be intresting to see.

    1. Gone is the monthly overhead of having to mail hundreds of thousands of new monthly passes, or to distribute same to thousands of recipient middle entities.

      1. That doesn’t include the savings from the buses being able to run their routes faster, the reduced fraud, or the greater revenue from tourists buying tickets instead of passes.

  7. One of the issues I have with the transit operations in our region is that there seems to be regular asks for further tax revenue, but very little motivation to cut the cost side of the situation. As a fervent supporter of transit, I would have a hard time supporting these additional increases without evidence that the agency in question is trying to cut costs.

    Take Metro, for example. Recent performance audits have identified areas where Metro is not in line with their peers. Scheduling, break time for drivers, and fare structure (particularly reduced fares) are areas for improvement. However, I have not seen a dedicated effort by Metro to address these findings. Instead, I see asks for further revenues.

    At what point do you force cost-saving measures? Looking at the bigger picture, we continue to have at least 4 major transit agencies in the region, each with its own administrative structure. I realize combining all the agencies wouldn’t address the current budget crisis, but if we’re not taking a long-term view towards cost savings now, then we’ll continue to have these regular budget crises and regular asks for further operating revenues.

    I realize there are other factors involved, but could we at least ask the agencies to meet us halfway? Rather than a 5% increase in revenue, could we have a 2.5% increase in revenue and 2.5% cut in costs?

    1. I don’t have all the details on what Metro is doing, but I can tell you this; the 181, a route that I use often, has significant cuts to its layover times at Green River CC. Is this happening all over the system? I don’t know for sure, but I’d be surprised if things like that weren’t happening.

    2. The #60 bus route went from 30-minute to 20-minute frequency with this pick. The #60 buses I’ve ridden on are now fuller than before.

      There are a handful of places Metro could cut, but nearly every one of them would involve losing riders and putting more cars on the road.

      I think we should be increasing service, not decreasing it.

      I also think we shouldn’t be cheaping out on security. We don’t necessarily need more security, but we do need them to be able to actually provide security.

      For Community Transit, the choices are pretty much shut down on Sunday, shut down SWIFT and a couple other routes, or cut some of the packed commuter buses. None of these cuts are desirable.

      Where would you like to see Metro cut?

    3. I realize there are other factors involved, but could we at least ask the agencies to meet us halfway? Rather than a 5% increase in revenue, could we have a 2.5% increase in revenue and 2.5% cut in costs?

      Ryan, this is already happening. A lot of the Metro audit recommendations are being implemented. If you look at our coverage we’ve discussed a lot of cuts in scheduling inefficiencies, as well as reducing things like shelter cleaning.

      Had no non-service cuts been made we would have been looking at almost a million hours of service disappearing; whereas now the total cost of the crisis should be about 460,000 hours.

    4. Good post Ryan. The Metro budget shortfall is partly due to transit governance in the Puget Sound in general, made back in the early 90’s.
      As high productive routes become rail lines for ST, Metro’s overall costs must be applied to lower productivity routes, requiring higher subsidies per rider.
      I’ve maintained for years, that having rail as a separate agency was a big mistake. Each agency takes on its own priorities and institutional values, rather than looking at the big picture when deciding the best way to provide service (bus or rail).
      Metro should have kept Light Rail in-house, and within King Co. for starters.
      Having ST cover so much turf, requires all the compromises in how service is allocated to keep everyone happy.
      Now that Seattle is getting into the transit business, one more player is making Metro’s job of providing service, and gaining financial support to provide the service, more complicated.
      In other words, lot’s of players, wearing multiple hats, all chasing after the same taxpayer’s dollar.
      Maybe a separate article on governance is needed?

      1. Mike,

        We’ve had several posts on governance, and we disagree with you. Putting trains (capital) and buses (operations) together would create inevitable pressure to raid the capital accounts to maintain existing service.

        In fact, ST funds many core routes for Metro, and pays them at a rate that allows them to also cover some of their overhead. It’s a net win for Metro.

      2. I know it’s a minority opinion. This discussion will go on for decades in some form, so I look forward to another good round of debate on the issue down the road (or should that be down the rail?).
        Thanks Martin.

      3. Who would champion intercounty service if ST didn’t exist? PT and CT did have basic Tacoma-Seattle and Snoho-Seattle service, but ST added all-day express routes all over the region. Those could have been created by the existing agencies, but each one serves primarily its own area and is not concerned for the other areas.

  8. E-mailed my reps. Mary Helen Roberts of theh 21st responded saying she’s definitely voting yes on this. The 21st district covers most of South Snohomish County, and will be hit very hard by cuts in CT service if money isn’t raised.

  9. If you live in the 43rd District, please call Speaker of the House Frank Chopp’s office and ask that he bring HB 2855 to a vote.

    Speaker Chopp’s Capitol office 360-786-7920

  10. I’ve heard that three Eastside Democrats need pressure to vote for the bill: Springer, Maxwell, and Eddy. If you live in Bellevue, Kirkland, etc., please call the legislative hotline at 800-562-6000 to show your support for hb 2855. (It’s very easy to use this phone number – you give your address and the bill you support/oppose and they send it to the appropriate people.)

  11. Crazy Swan/Blue Swan/T. Undretti/John Bailo are the same person, really. They’re part of a group of neo-con trolls that have basically been rolled out of places like Slog (although posting there currently as Supreme Ruler of the Universe). He/they frequently post incredibly conservative things, toot Palin’s horn, scream about taxes and so on and so forth.

    Do not engage unless it’s for fun.

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