Although some details leaked out yesterday, the official rollout of the latest plan to save Metro was at 9am this morning. In the City of Seattle, there would be a $60 vehicle license fee (VLF) and 0.1% sales tax increase, yielding $45m annually and entirely dedicated to transit. The cuts scheduled for 2014 will go through, but Murray expects $40m of this revenue to avoid “the vast majority” of the 2015 cuts — 90% of the current boardings in Seattle — to routes “mostly in” Seattle. This amounts to about 8% of the current, countywide system. The city may find $500,000 to restore the night owl trips in the 2014 tranche of cuts.
The intent is that the Council would put the money in large buckets and Metro would make specific route decisions, with protections in the intergovernmental agreement so that the post-cut network is the baseline for Metro’s service allocation decisions. Executive Constantine laid out the standardized framework for these agreements, called “Community Mobility Contracts,” yesterday. Mr. Constantine stated unequivocally today that “the money stays where the city specifies.”
$3m will go into a “regional partnership fund” for employers or other cities that want to match Seattle’s money to buy service on inter-city routes like the the 158 or 215. Even one-way peak expresses are eligible. The Mayor’s office says these are good for Seattle employers and they keep cars off Seattle’s streets. Seattle residents righteously indignant at this “subsidy” for suburban residents might consider that 100% of Sound Transit Express service is funded by suburban subareas.
The remaining $2m will fund a VLF rebate for low-income residents.
Murray said that “when a regionwide solution is in place, we would phase this out,” although in the future Seattle might ask voters if they would like to use this money to improve service in “desperate” areas like West Seattle and Ballard. Murray said that in his opinion “we do not have real bus rapid transit in this state,” and had Prop 1 passed he would have focused on remedying that immediately. Aggressive capital plans will now have to wait for the legislature to free up the VLF funds, as “for the moment we’re managing our way through the crisis.” If the legislature were never to the act, by law the sales tax portion can be in effect for no more than 10 years.
This plan still has to pass the Seattle City Council before going to voters. Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen, in response to a question, suggested he preferred VLF to property tax because Seattle voters have already approved it. However, he said Bridging the Gap was a mechanism for property tax to fund transportation, one that would likely continue. Mayor Murray showed no enthusiasm for having two property tax measures (Pre-K and transit), on the ballot simultaneously, closely following a Parks property levy.
In an interesting addendum, Shoreline Deputy Mayor Chris Eggen showed up to say his city was “strongly considering” participating in the regional partnership fund and/or Community Mobility Contracts, but could not commit to anything today.