KTMEver 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.

47 Replies to “Transit Agencies Unite In Olympia: “Keep Transit Moving!””

  1. DOA

    The days of just holding out your hand for the payout to be funneled to the unions, SHARE/WHEEL, and whatever other “urban” interests out there are over. You want a fancy bus, street car, funicular, l00t rail? Tax yourself with a local vote. Don’t expect the rest of the state to “bail” u out

    1. We did tax ourselves with a local vote. That’s what MVET was. They took that away – so they have to fix it.

      1. No, the voters did w/ I-695. The State Supreme Court tried to overturn it, but the state legislature covered their butts and reinstated I-695/repealed MVET.

        Let the chips fall where they may, the voters have said time & again they want to decide tax issues. Time the state legislature got on w/ that.

      2. Why should voters in other parts of the State get to determine the levels that Seattle/King County/Puget Sound/etc get to tax ourselves?

      3. Joe, I-695 was unconstitutional.

        The state legislature took local MVET authority away from municipalities that voted *against* I-695 and had previously approved their MVET with a popular vote.

      4. King County and Seattle voted against I-695, and for the MVET. We shouldn’t be denied that because voters in Ellensburg didn’t want to pay it.

    2. Read the post. We tried taxing ourselves, but the state said we couldn’t. I don’t know what you think you’re quoting when you say “bail”.

    3. We would if we could. We can’t. But, nevermind reality. Demonise urban areas because we pay for your crap.

    4. Let’s remember, city centers are the places where States make their money in the first place. It is Seattle who subsidizes the rest of the state.

      1. I love that map. Think of how much money must come from those six counties under the $1.00 line to pay for the rest of the state’s overspending (or undertaxation, potato potato).

  2. I’m glad to see all the agencies coming together, but I feel like they need some messaging help. The linked brochure could be improved in a lot of ways, both stylistic and substantive. I don’t feel like it will speak to the average legislator or voter who doesn’t usually think about transit. Who is putting this stuff together?

  3. What formula for distribution are you referring to Ben?
    Also, do you know if WSTA is asking for the cap on sales tax be lifted or just raised, and if raised, to what?
    The link provides very little information on the proposal.

    1. You misunderstand. The proposal is not for new local authority – we’ve already been down that road and been rejected.

      It’s widely expected that the state will be assembling a large transportation measure for the ballot soon, with it’s own statewide funding source TBD. It’s likely to be entirely freeway spending. WSTA wants to make that 75% freeway, 25% transit.

    2. Last year’s fee bill had a formula for distributing money between transit agencies. The agencies have agreed to the same formula for the future, thankfully, so we don’t have to have that fight again. :)

  4. Washington State has a very low property tax rate for a state with no income tax.


    Compare Washington’s 0.92% rate with another state that has no income tax, Texas, which has double the property tax rate, 1.81%. Or even Kansas, which is under fire for eliminating its income tax, has a property tax rate of 1.29%.

    Seems to me that the real way to fund transit is through property taxes and at the same time there’s a lot of room for “give” to make our tax rates equal to those of states with a sales but no income tax.

  5. John Bailo: You are ignoring all the local property taxes. Add those in and we’re near the top of the heap. Want equity with other states? Impose income taxes.

    As for new transit revenues:

    1) Sound Transit can use its existing employer tax, revenue bonds and LID authority. No vote needed.

    2) Metro/Pierce Transit/etc. should get new authority to tax businesses (% of payroll) and authority to tax the rich (capital gains tax for all long/short gains > $20K). Businesses and the rich benefit from transit too. No vote needed.

      1. Yep, and property tax is one of the tools the legislature could use to provide $400m/yr in transit funding.

      2. Yes, just like in every other state that either has no income tax or wants grade A government service like abundant transit.

  6. “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.”

    How many Republicans are from areas in King and Pierce Counties that use or support transit enough to swing the election?

  7. Great, “a line in the sand has been drawn”! This is a good and worthy line to draw.

    But who is defending this line? Which committee members, which urban legislators, which just-seated governors are willing to refuse to let other measures proceed unless this line is defended?

    Our last governor was useless when it came to representing urban interests and defending urban priorities. She just didn’t care. Has anyone in the present administration/present legislative term expressed a greater willingness to fight to shift priorities?

    1. Yes. Many of them have. Are you coming on transportation advocacy day? You can get some of those questions answered and apply pressure!

      1. I had thought that already happened…

        Looks like it’s actually on February 12th, and I will not be available.

        I would imagine Reuven Carlyle, from my district, to be in our corner already. Guessing it will likely be tougher to make Kohl-Welles and especially Tarleton see this as a priority worth going to bat for.

  8. Why do you keep using “ask” like a noun? It just doesn’t sound right.

    I have 3 eats per day, not including snacks. I have only 1 sleep, because I don’t nap. I have many studies per day at college.

    You can’t noun everything.

    1. Thank you! I was about to post the same thing. The nouning of “ask” drives me nuts.

      The verbing of “noun,” on the other hand, is OK. :)

      1. Yeah, “ask” as a noun comes from business and finance long before Microsoft existed. It’s a legitimate use. :)

      2. It’s basically the foundation of my type of work, fundraising. I can’t think of a more useful replacement.

    2. Welcome to the English language! Did you know that we have nothing similar to L’Académie française and that our language is constantly evolving and changing?

      Oxford English Dictionary, under ask:

      [in singular]
      1US the price at which an item, especially a financial security, is offered for sale: [as modifier]: ask prices for bonds

      2 [with adjective] informal a demand or situation that requires a specified degree of effort or commitment: it is a big ask for him to go and play 90 minutes it was a tough ask, but they delivered


      1. Very true. Equally true one doesn’t have to enjoy or agree with the changes – the beauty of English is you can choose to use it in your own fashion, avoiding usage like “ask as a noun” as you see fit.

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