Tomorrow from 12-1pm, in their downtown offices in Rm 121 of the Chinook Building,  Transportation Choices Coalition will host a discussion of the financial cliff King County Metro will drive straight over in 2014, absent action from the state legislature to give the agency more taxing authority:

Your bus could be on the chopping block! Faced with declining sales tax revenue, King County Metro may have to resort to drastic service cuts. The temporary congestion reduction charge staved off these cuts but it expires in 2014. To make matters worse, state funds which pay for transit service during the Alaskan Way Viaduct construction run out next year too – two years before the construction ends!

Join King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond for a discussion on what the future holds for King County Metro as they grapple with the challenge of keeping service in the face of an unprecedented loss of revenue. Hear about Metro’s plans for potential cuts and how they hope to keep buses running in 2014 and beyond.

Some numbers for context: Metro needs about $60 million annually to permanently fill the hole the Great Recession blew in the budget; this is currently filled by the two-year $20 Congestion Reduction Charge. On top of this is $15 million per year, to sell bonds to buy new buses (the current biennial budget is only balanced by assuming the cuts will take effect and those buses will not be replaced); and the almost-exhausted Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project construction mitigation funding, which pays for schedule padding and additional peak trips on West Seattle routes, trips that are now full.

Estimates from Metro suggest that a county-wide MVET of about 1% would be the minimum to meet these needs, considerably above the token 0.7% MVET included in the awful highway-expansion package announced last week. And of course, these numbers doesn’t allow for significant expansion or investment in the many corridors, mostly in Seattle, which are under-served at the current frequency levels, or which have shovel-ready projects available to reduce fuel consumption and improve travel times and reliability.

37 Replies to “Friday Forum: Metro’s Fiscal Cliff”

  1. If they didn’t get any new authority, which service change would implement the cuts?

    Would there be enough time if the Legislature passed councilmanic authority in the next session, or are they basically SOL if the Legislature fails to act this year?

    1. I don’t know which service change exactly — it could be spread out over several — but county people tell me the legislature could act this year or next.

  2. How does the Supreme court ruling on 2/3 affect the County to extend the CRC or create a new tax? Does the County still have to wait on the State even though the council can now pass a tax by a simple majority.

    1. Today’s decision doesn’t change anything for the Council. The County only has what taxing authority the Legislature gives it.

    2. The county needs state approval to extend the CRC or create a new tax. This is separate from the 2/3 majority issue. The state regulates local governments’ revenue streams; i.e., the maximum rate and where it can come from (sales, property, MVET). The basic purpose of this is to coordinate the rates so that one project doesn’t charge a runaway tax that starves other projects. But the way it’s working out is, rural/suburban legislators who don’t believe in transit or taxes are preventing King County or even King County voters from approving adequate taxes for transit. ST3 is also caught up in this; it needs legislative approval to even go to the ballot.

  3. Considering how the MVET is incredibly unpopular, you guys need a different funding stream.

    I have an idea: Start clawing back from the over-consuming counties their services to pay for the needs of King & Skagit Counties that pay the state’s way!

    1. In the beginning there were private streetcar companies which were consolidated under Seattle Transit around WWII. A rural transit district was created for suburbia. In the 1970s these were merged to form Metro. I don’t know why. Initially Metro was a separate level of government (which also managed sewage treatment), but in the 1980s this was ruled unconstitutional and it merged with King County. So now it’s a county agency.

      1. In general transporation mergers are due to economies of scale. Transportation networks are natural monopolies, where they nearly always work better when they’re larger. (So that schedules can be integrated, transfer points will make sense, bus usage can be shared and optimized, that kind of thing.)

      2. Operations wise this is generally true, the bigger the scale the cheaper it will be to operate, Of course politically, the bigger the scale it can lead people to believe they are getting ignored and cause them to spit off again. If a scheme like that was tried here, I think it would meet with those results.

  4. The fact that the county can’t go to the voters continues to fill me with incoherent rage. Why on earth do rural legislators care if we in the city choose to tax ourselves, and only ourselves?

    1. Presumably the rural voters believe that their interests (being able to drive into the city occasionally to buy stuff while paying low taxes on whatever they buy while they’re there) outweighs the urban interests in the form of the transit that such higher taxes would pay for.

    2. David, b/c [ad hom].

      King County gets back $.61 of every $1.00 sent to Olympia in State Taxes.

      King County gets back $1.00 of every $1.00 kept in King County in County Taxes.

      Starve the cities from voting to raise their own taxes, force us to vote for statewide taxes just to maintain services, then turn back to your voters and talk about how those Seattle Tax Loving Liberals are at it again, raising everyone’s taxes, better make sure you keep me in office as a counter, oh hey, and look at this new school I just secured you!

    3. Because they know, the smarter ones anyway, that we are subsidizing their car-dominant lifestyles, and they don’t want to give that up. Then there are those who just think transit and density in general are bad, and they don’t want to see anyone live that way, even if they aren’t directly paying for it. There are plenty, I think, in the Legislature who generally aren’t very well informed on transportation issues, and follow the lead of their caucus, too…

  5. Are we constantly going to have Metro begging for money? Last time they blackmailed us saying that unless they got the $20 car tab fee they were going to cancel major routes like the route 43. Times are tough, but I’m really getting tired of Metro constantly coming back saying that things will be crap for us unless they get the money that they say is lacking.

    1. Ain’t much Metro can do about it. We should complain to the state. And not just to “let us tax ourselves for bus service”. All that money the state pours into roads elsewhere should be poured into transit in the cities.

    2. Yes, until Metro has a stable, non-declining funding source, it will be constantly “begging for money,” because there will constantly be major holes in its budget.

      And while the 43 is a major route, once U-Link is open, it is one that can be canceled without huge amounts of pain, relative to other possible cancellations.

    3. it’s not blackmail, it’s the truth. Perhaps Metro’s marketing was a little overboard with people thinking the 71/72/73 would be deleted entirely, but that’s more honest than the rigamorole the state keeps putting us through. At some point, people need to take responsibility for understanding Metro’s advertising and getting some background information to understand what Metro’s real situation is. I head people say UW-downtown service would be deleted completely, which would never happen unless Metro went completely out of business. And I’ve heard people say they thought the $20 fee would save all their one-seat rides including the outer parts of West Seattle and such. No, Metro is still under a mandate to review the 25% least-performing corridors for cuts and the 25% best-performing/most-overcrowded corridors for additions. The difference is that, with full funding, the deleted service hours will be redeployed where needed, whereas if the $20 fee expires with no replacement, the deleted service hours will simply disappear.

  6. Who do we complain to? How do sites like moveon or kos set up auto emails to where you just enter your name and address and a canned email goes out to the proper legislators? I don’t know if those things make a huge difference, but it doesn’t seem like it could hurt. Even putting “if this tics you off, email this guys” at the end of posts could help.

    1. Take the time to send a personal email to the appropriate legislators (your own, the heads of the Transportation Committees, and the leadership). It will get far more attention than a canned email ever could. Legislators see form letters as the lowest priority.

  7. So, since this is such a huge issue, could Metro sue the state for not properly funding it through the construction if it gets down to this?

  8. METRO has no choice but to raise fares and remove redundant services. The yobs running the Washington Senate are not going to agree to extend the taxes it needs.

    Yes, it will hurt low-income people. Yes, it will probably result in some reduction in “choice” ridership (especially the service cuts) but there is no choice.

    Since the main reason for this inability to raise taxes sits squarely on the good burgers (misspelled deliberately) of Medina and northwest Bellevue — the people who elected Faux News “Democrat” Rodney Tom — I would hope that METRO targets cross-lake service for the heaviest cuts.

    1. Coupled with a low-income ORCA program, fare increases should not be taken out of the running. For $90/mo, relative to owning a car, taking the bus is affordable. Commuters currently packed onto overstuffed buses would likely be more than willing to chip in an extra $1 for a more civilized ride. The big issue is mitigating harm on those who legitimately can’t afford it.

    2. I would be willing to pay $100 if it would both fill the hole and recover the reliability Metro had before 2008 when it lost its redundant standby buses. Not that Metro’s on-time performance was stellar then, but it was better than it is now. I’d pay $110 if it would fill in the evening/Sunday frequency gaps in the priority corridors.

  9. Redundant is right. Duplicative is another word for Metro route arrangements. More buses than necessary and at the same time not enough. More people left waiting at bus stops while many buses pass by mostly empty. I’ve used many US city transit maps and Seattle’s Metro is the worst. Washington State DOT and transit agencies are criminally incompetent and corrupt. Their employees and spokespersons act innocently confident to cover their guilt and complicity in perpetrating fraud. The big money stakeholder interest is in automobile dependency. Thus, potentially optimal mass transit systems are carefully designed to fail. The most central component of Seattle transit system designs are parking garages and park-n-rides.

    1. I can’t claim to be an expert on city income taxes, but I recently read a book making the claim that Philly’s city income tax is a major drag on its urban economy and a reason to ship all but high-prestige jobs out of the city limits.

      I actually think the idea that Seattle just needs to tax itself more is insulting. The state takes in lots of tax money and spends it mostly on major highways; it thus spends much less per-capita in King County than the rest of the state. And spending only on major highways represents a bias against urban living generally — the state funds the daily travel needs of people that use freeways daily and not those that don’t. It funds long commutes at the expense of shorter ones. We need the state to either (a) fund transportation projects that are beneficial to the areas served, not just big highways or (b) get out of that funding game altogether.

      1. I encounter this logic over and over in discussions around blogs and it simply doesn’t make sense.

        (1) It is claimed that Seattle residents pay more tax to the state than they receive back from the state.

        (2) This “stolen tax” goes to mostly rural communities, or Red Counties, that largely have different political values than Seattle.

        So the claim is that Seattle’s money is used against it. What is more this claim is also made for other cities and blue states with regard to Federal taxes.

        So there seems to be some sort of Helsinki Syndrome going on of asking your abductors to torture you more by asking for states and Federal taxes to go up! Rationally, Liberals would want to lower their federal and state tax burdens as much as possible and to take those taxes and replace them with city taxes that keep the money at home for all the things that city folk want…like transit, density projects, education and so on.

      2. [Expletives]

        I actually don’t fundamentally have a problem with an imbalance of payments. One of the benefits of having a government representing lots of people is that the government can put aggregate lots of resources toward projects that benefit the public good, and sometimes those projects are in different areas, physically or metaphorically. I don’t think the state should adhere to some strict ideal of sub-area equity:

        – Generally wealthy people pay more taxes and receive less in services. The fact that, on the Federal level, California’s balance of payments has been negative recently, is not in itself alarming, since California is (on aggregate) quite wealthy; the same is roughly true for King County in Washington State. What’s alarming is the magnitude and persistence of this balance, and that it affects the poor in aggregate-wealthy places as much as or more than the rich.

        – Many projects in one area benefit people all over. There’s a good case that strong education benefits the society as a whole. The state’s maintenance and monitoring of mountain passes is important far beyond the small number of people that live in the mountains; even people like me that rarely cross the mountains benefit from movement of goods across the passes. These projects are worthy investments for the state, and it’s not alarming that they’re funded. What is alarming is that when that project is urban transit, the state tells the city to raise its own taxes.

        – The ability to spend in an imbalanced way allows a large government to shift priorities as needed. When a disaster occurs government funding flows into the affected region. Someone might say that New Orleans shouldn’t have received outside assistance after Katrina, that the gulf should have cleaned up its own oil spill, or NYC should have taken care of itself after Sandy. This is not my belief, and I don’t think it’s the belief of most US-style liberals.

        – On a less drastic scale… shifting priorities on the city scale means that Seattle didn’t have to go door-to-door in SLU for the Mercer project. Washington can put education funds where it thinks they’ll have the most impact. The Federal government doesn’t have to issue research grants equally in every state. It’s only alarming when there’s a persistent anti-urban bias in the investments.

        – Of course, there’s a continuum of benefit, from more private to wider, and different uses exist. It’s not alarming that the state prefers to spend money on projects of statewide importance. What’s alarming is the way it misunderstands statewide importance. When the state funds expansion of 167 and 405 it’s funding some freight movement and general statewide mobility. But it’s funding a lot of routine daily trips, which account for most of the congestion. Work commutes, shopping, routine recreation and entertainment. The same types of trips that people in denser parts of the city make without getting on a freeway.

  10. Al Diamond #1: spending only on major highways represents a bias against urban living generally

    Al Diamond #2: sometimes those projects are in different areas, physically or metaphorically

    [Ad hom]

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