It will surprise no one that the King County Council sent a tax measure to the ballot yesterday that would prevent deep Metro cuts and raise money to work off some of the road maintenance deficit. It might surprise some of us that the vote was unanimous, including four Republican* councilmembers representing suburban and exurban areas of the County. From a Move King County Now press release:

“Our continued economic competitiveness is paramount,” said King County Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “As a King County Transportation Benefit District Board Member, I cannot stand by and watch our infrastructure deteriorate.”

The April 22nd measure will authorize a 10-year 0.1% increase in sales tax and $60 vehicle license fee (replacing the expiring $20 CRC license fee) and would, if revenue projections are accurate, just about cover Metro’s deficit.

On the same day, the Council approved a 25 cent fare increase in March 2015, and required Metro to create an implementation plan for the low-income fare by June 1 of this year:

If an interlocal agreement is reached with the King County Transportation District for the distribution of voter-approved revenues, the fare would start in 2015 at $1.25 for eligible adults and the youth fare would remain at $1.25, with these fares rising to $1.50 in 2017. Absent the interlocal agreement, the low-income fare and youth fare would be set at $1.50 starting in 2015.

The eligibility threshold for the low-income fare would be 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $22,980 for an individual. Adults in a family of four earning up to $47,100 would also be eligible.

*The Council is now officially nonpartisan, although four current members were originally elected as Republicans.

58 Replies to “Council Approves Ballot Measure, Fare Increase”

  1. I think King Co. Metro, Pierce Transit, Community transit, Sound Transit and other Transit Authority should have the right to collect other taxes because two taxes is not the best way to get funding for transit. I think the state government should allow Transit Authorities to collect Property Tax, a motor fuel tax and also including sales tax excluding fuel for cars without asking voters until the Property tax reaches $150 per house hold, $1.50/gallon, and the sales tax reach 5%. Then the voters can vote on any tax increases.

    1. You’d have to get those ideas approved first, and the state senate at least is very unfriendly to new tax authority of any sort.

      If the state had been willing to provide other taxing options to us we would not be trying to pass this tax. The taxes are regressive, but not as regressive as cutting bus service.

    2. It should be noted that car owners below 45% of the median county income will qualify for a $20 rebate on their vehicle license fee.

      Potholes are regressive, too, so that 40% of TBD revenue going to local transportation projects (not state highway projects) is a good investment in improving livability and affordability, as well.

    3. You suggest raising taxes on various different items but I hope you realize that there are retired people on fixed income whose costs continue to go up but their income does not. It is always so interesting that people want to raise taxes not only for roads and transit but for parks and other things without taking into consideration what it does to people who are living on an income on a month to month basis and simply don’t have any extra money to pay for pet projects.

      1. If you really thought that as soon as you retired inflation would stop, taxes would be frozen, fees would remain constant, and energy prices wouldn’t fluctuate every again, then you have much more serious problems to deal with than just your fixed income. This is the real world and things are always changing. Adapt to the changing landscape to keep your costs down. It’s really your only (viable) option.

        I’m voting “yes” on this because it is absolutely required. It’s not perfect, but the alternative is much worse.

      2. It is obvious that you are not one of those retired people and it will be interesting to hear your viewpoints when you get to that age bracket. Right now it is easy for you to say to adapt but when you have to deal with the reality of living on a fixed income it is a different story and especially when you have different government agencies wanting raised taxes.

        You have Seattle utilities wanting to raise their rates, the state wanting to raise gasoline taxes, parks levies, school levies and now raising taxes to save Metro. Where does it end. And I am not even talking food prices going up and heating and health costs.

        Yes it easy to say adapt but you need face reality that not everyone has a generous income and there are people who did the best they could to prepare for retirement but when you have seemingly every government agencies raising their rates and taxes on a regular basis there is only so much you can do.

      3. Social security — which, by the way, goes to the richest age group in society — gets regular cost-of-living adjustments, which is more than I can say for a lot of other age groups.

      4. Jeff,

        I’m definitely sympathetic to the problems you describe. For me, the problem is not that costs keep rising; it’s that your income doesn’t. There shouldn’t be such a thing as a fixed income. We should index retirement benefits to a measure of inflation that accurately reflects the goods and services that retired people need to buy.

        I recognize that it doesn’t really work that way right now. (Social Security is indexed, but many pensions are not, and our system of IRAs and 401(k) plans does not do a good job at helping people plan for inflation.) It would also be better to levy taxes that more accurately reflect people’s ability to pay.

        But right now, the reality is that we have to choose between a 0.1% tax increase, or a 17% cut in Metro’s services. The former is unfortunate, but the latter would be devastating. I’m not going to pretend that no one will be hurt by a tax increase, but cutting Metro will hurt far worse — including many retired people.

        There are many people who would like to see Washington State adopt a more progressive tax structure. I encourage you to help us out. :)

      5. Jeff the unfortunately reality is that past generations screwed us. We’ve been handed crumbling infastructure and a regressive tax system and have to figure out a way to make it work. Be nice if past generations had built a sustainable transportation system back in the day, but they didn’t. So now we have high operation cost buses as the backbone of our system. Thems the breaks.

        At least you’re on the way out. Some of us have 60 more years of declining standards of living to look forward to.


      6. The world isn’t going to stop just because you are on a fixed income. You will need to adapt, because you don’t have any other choice. This region is not going to lock itself in amber just because your income is. That is a simple fact of life, and it has nothing to do with me.

        In the mean time, supporting Metro is critical to this region. Future fixed income or not (I’m not retired, but close), I intend to do the right thing and vote “yes” on this.

      7. Hi Jeff,

        Let’s keep this discussion confined to the subject at hand, it’s about the plan to save metro and fix roads.

        With that in mind, imagine how difficult it will be for low income seniors if the bus they rely on to get around is suddenly cut. What will they do?

        This ballot measure has some pretty good upsides for lower income seniors as well. This is tied to the expansion of the low income fare program and there is a potential rebate on the Vehicle Licensing Fee. A lot of seniors qualify for both of those programs as neither are based on assets, just income.

      8. I agree that the discussions should stay on the ballot issue concerning transit and roads. But I do want to make 2 final comments.

        Martin, it is true that Social Security does get cost of living raises but at the same the premium for Medicare is raised so the 2 almost balance each other out.

        Iazarus, I have adapted the best I can but there is only so much you can do when costs for everything goes up.

        As far as the ballot issue is concerned, I have not made my decision on how I will vote as I see the positives of what is proposed and particularly the money that will be spend on roads as they certainly need to be maintained. I also see the need for Metro and by the way I do have a senior Orca card. But I do have to look at the cost involved and what it does to my budget.

      9. seniors have little excuse for not saving their money for the world of every increasing expenses. In fact they most often have the most money, or should if they were responsible in their working years.

      1. Re: On Topic regarding conjunction of Jeff Pittman’s problem of age-related income limitations, Seattleite’s concern over inter-generational misuse of common fasteners, and public transit via KC Metro and connected systems:

        My departure from transit driving at age 50 gave me this insight into the employment scene from that age on: this country needs a law with the teeth of and back feet of a velociraptor against discrimination by age. Too bad though that nobody’s got a discrimination claim in an economy where millions getting hurt the same way.

        For the country, major age related problem is that “age 65” used to raise eyebrows on a tomb stone cutter. And for us, reason unemployment hurts so much is we’re still in condition to enjoy a productive life if we had the money. Word “productive’ is also key to the solution.

        Seattleite, a financial system scared of its own bad loans is not the same thing as a meteor strike or the Yellowstone Caldera (look it up) blowing its lid off. The Quebec oil train wreck, and the West Virginia capital’s poisoned water are better examples- but luckily their prevention and cure is same measure as the one for unemployment. Across age-groups.

        Start hiring people, including Jeff and me, at good wages just to fix what’s broken. And tax the money we earn to improve what we just fixed. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I recall that working people secure with a decent lifelong living didn’t go to pitch-forks over taxes for public necessities.

        And for a generation or two, start giving the bulk of education spending to trades programs in our community colleges- where one already sees many people over sixty. Best thing about computer-assisted drafting and design is that worst Workers’ Comp damage is carpal tunnel. SolidWorks and CATIA can be aggravating, but neither can cut your hand off.

        Mark Dublin

  2. With my last change of address, I can’t vote in King County. But since my ORCA records doubtless list travel far above the average King county resident, I’d be glad to work for State and local measures that would let me pay an additional five dollars a month for the service I ride to all four counties I ride through. I live my life regionally now.

    Nobody who knows me would ever think I’ve got a credible threat not to work for the passage of the King County measure. But after the thirty years I’ve spent aboard transit, in every single seat in a variety of buses, and passenger ones aboard LINK and Sounder, I also doubt anybody thinks I’ll be working to continue the system we presently have.

    How much effort I put in will depend on the shape and spirit of the campaign. Replace warnings about “the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave” with some words about what the agency will do to make service work better with the new revenue. San Francisco has card readers at every door of every vehicle. Good campaign plank. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel can be run so nothing stops between stations. Better one.

    Abusive lack of recovery time for transit operators has got to end the day the measure passes. Even better pledge. And ATU Local 587 has to be welcomed strongly and permanently into the planning and everyday management of transit operations.

    And its members-several thousand voters who have more to lose from a defeat than anybody else on earth- would be well advised to accept the above invitation. Enough campaign planks for a mahogany desk with a brass lamp.

    And for every agency who, like me, permanently depends on the strongest possible transit system in King County: not one more excuse about failure to correct a single problem being some other agency’s fault. Enough planks there to build a tall staircase. Because this election really is just step one toward the system we’re a half century behind in building.

    Shape the campaign accordingly, and that particular deficit could be seriously shrunk.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Abusive lack of recovery time …” Data please, Mark.

      Also, how can the lack of recovery time be abusive? It’s my understanding drivers are guaranteed a break at the terminal even if there is no recovery time.

      1. Of 5 minutes… Trouble is, that “guaranteed break” just makes our next trip late at which point you’d no doubt be bitching about lazy bus drivers who can’t pee on their own time.

    2. I agree from my Skagit perch, there needs to be net gains from this vote – not just a tax increase to have a net zero service result.

      How about for instance a new Sounder North station?

      How about for instance expanding RapidRide?

      How about for instance making sure drivers get their rest?

      1. But is this really a tax increase? I was under the impression it was simply replacing existing taxes that were going to expire, while keeping the overall money Metro receives constant. So, Metro wouldn’t have money to start new projects without cutting service.

      2. William, from the Seattle P-I:

        The council, acting as a Transportation Benefit District, is proposing a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 vehicle license fee. The impacts would be offset by a multi-zone $1.25 fare for low income riders.

        “What’s really on the ballot is really the cuts,” councilman Larry Phillips said. He argued that the measure will maintain existing bus service. In fact, with increasing ridership, Metro needs more buses and routes.

        Sorry, tax increase for good reasons.

      3. There is something really big in this package: Metro will become the largest transit agency in the country with a specifically-branded “low-income fare”. (A lot of rural transit agencies and college campus transit routes don’t charge fare, so there is no reason for them to have a “low-income” version of free. We also have the downtown circulator, Tacoma Link for the moment, and the Kent Shoppers’ Shuttle.)

        Moreover, the low-income ORCA should take a huge bite out of the slow-downs caused by change fumbling, once planners can turn their attention to removing the padding that has developed in a bunch of slowly-but-surely sped-up routes. Those savings due to the much-decreased change fumbling is where Metro should be able to get its next reinvestment hours.

  3. I can’t say how elated I’m am by this! The fact that it has bipartisan, broad-based support is deeply encouraging. I’m glad we can come together on this!

    1. Does sending a measure to ballot necessarily mean supporting the measure itself? Some could be voting to send it to the ballot to have it spectacularly shot down in their home districts.

      Regardless, I’m glad this measure has a chance, and I do believe it does have broad-based support. Now to convince the latently supportive to vote!

    2. I think all Councilmembers really do see the importance of Metro. They may disagree on priorities for expansion (Seattle vs Eastside, more P&Rs, faster buses vs not impeding cars), but they don’t want to lose the existing level of service. They’re aware more than the average citizen is of how much transit underlies the county’s functionality for residents, commuters, and businesses — their areas of responsibility.

  4. I’m voting no. I believe Metro made the proposed cuts in such a way as to scare people into voting yes. I believe they could have made the cuts more palatable. If I vote yes, I’ll feel like I’ve been manipulated.

    1. Please, Sam, describe how the cuts could have been made more palatable. I’d love to hear it.

      1. He means by making bigger cuts to the routes he doesn’t ride in order to preserve service on the routes he does.

      2. That’s what I thought, asdf, but I was holding out a finger of hope for an actual shadow of a better plan (or, more likely, to advertise the silence).

    2. I’ll tell you what I believe Metro did with an analogy. Let’s say a city needs to cut three positions if the voters don’t approve some levy for more money. So the city says they are going to cut two police officers and one fireman if the levy isn’t approved, when they could have proposed eliminating employees with titles like the assistant managing director for media relations. Would voters approve the levy if the city threatened to cut the latter positions? Of course they wouldn’t. So they way this give-us-more-money game is played is you have to makes the cuts hurt, otherwise you won’t get your money. The city, as any government or private organization has options as to how they can cut. Some cuts will force voters to approve levys, some cuts won’t.

    3. Sam, Metro will use its’ data, based on ridership use, in all of the adjustments that may be imposed. This system needs funding to maintain and sustain. Don’t roll the dice, even if you never ride the bus. Proposed cuts will impact our region and quality of life.

    1. Sounds like a great idea. Write your state legislators… and start rounding up every influential person you can find in the state, because it will take a constitutional amendment.

      Sadly, this cannot be done in time to stave off transit and infrastructure cuts.

    2. John Bailo, we all work for a living, some earn more than others. The wealthy buy expensive vehicles and drive them wherever and whenever they want. Many of the rest of us use public transit. Nothing comes free in life, this may cost some, one less latte, bottle of bargain priced wine or a pack of smokes per month. Fewer busses on road means more of us, that prefer transit, will have to add to traffic congestion because our bus service won’t be there. When you compare it with what we get in return, it is money well spent, a good investment. Quality of life in this region depends on good transit options. Think about it!

  5. This bellyaching and hand-wringing over a 0.1% tax increase is exactly why nothing ever gets done.

    The anti-transit wing of the Republican Party wants to wash Olympia’s hands of transit except for a few regional transit connectors through their districts that are highly popular in Northwest Washington State and who knows in Eastern Washington & the Olympic Peninsula.

    Folks, this is a time to make a decision. If transit matters, quit whining and get into the fight. If you want to give anti-transit voices a huge victory by continued hand-wringing and the like over a 0.1% tax increase, by all means start an anti-transit wing in the Democratic Party.

  6. I encourage king county voters to say no to any new taxes. King county metro must live within its means. A 17 percent or more transit cut will not mean the end of the world to Seattle. Having said that, San Francisco muni will be interested in purchasing 475 king county metro buses after the cuts take place. Your small city won’t need a large bus fleet, and can do with fewer than 600 buses.

    1. Willy S, Your input seems biased and perhaps more rooted in the fact that the Seahawks beat your Fourty_whiners. Bitter are we? Transit in this region is vital, it impacts every aspect of our quality of life here. Metro has been recognized as one of the best, safest, efficient transit systems in the county. It’s small thinking, opportunistic individuals like T Eyman, perhaps yourself, that have attacked transit funding sources. This, along with the 2008 recession, has stripped funds that are needed to maintain the service we depend on to get hard working people to their jobs, activities, medical appointments, school, the grocery store. Take that away and it is a continued downhill decline for our region. I hope the voters, those that use transit and those that drive personal vehicles, recognize how important passing Prop 1 for Transit is. I encourage a yes vote, it will help keep this amazing region thriving and economically strong. Go Hawks! Go Metro! Vote yes for Transit!

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