Dow Constantine
County Executive Dow Constantine

Yesterday, the King County Council, in a long, tense meeting, passed Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s proposal to indefinitely delay all of Metro’s cuts except most of those scheduled for September 2014. Dembowski and four suburban councilmembers (Hague, Lambert, Dunn, von Reichbauer) voted in favor, while the remaining four councilmembers (Upthegrove, McDermott, Gossett, Phillips) voted against.  The council also unanimously passed a companion motion by Councilmember Dembowski requesting that the Executive commission the second Metro performance audit in five years; set a higher farebox recovery target; and study further efficiency measures to reduce the amount of cuts needed.  In approving Dembowski’s ordinance, the Council rejected a compromise amendment offered by the four No-voting members which would have left the scheduled cuts in place but allowed the executive to cancel or reduce most of them if revenue allowed.

Councilmember Dembowski’s ordinance did not add or specifically identify any revenue to pay for the service it sought to restore.  It included Councilmember Kathy Lambert’s amendment arbitrarily saving six DART routes, five of which are quite poor performers, from the ax.  For these and other reasons I detailed yesterday morning,  Dembowski’s measure was highly unpopular among the STB staff.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who disliked it.  County Executive Dow Constantine, who did not issue a veto threat or otherwise show his hand before the Council’s vote, vetoed the bill less than one hour after the Council voted for it—about 20 minutes after the end of the Council meeting.  The veto is the first of Constantine’s four-year tenure as county executive.  In a blistering press release (where he likened the Dembowski ordinance to “a big check without enough money in the bank”) and an equally blunt letter to the Council he left very little doubt about where he stands on the issues at play.  Both documents are well worth reading in their entirety, but some bits of language in the letter are too colorful to pass up (emphasis all mine):

[The Dembowski ordinance] is not responsible. It violates the Comprehensive Financial Management Policies adopted unanimously by the Council less than two months ago. Specifically, it spends future revenue that does not exist, and it draws upon one-time revenue to fund ongoing operations. Further, it violates King County Metro’s Council-adopted Strategic Plan by allocating service hours based on political considerations rather than data and established objective criteria. We’ve come far in our nationally recognized work to reform and modernize King County government and should not endanger this progress. …

We worked together to achieve meaningful reforms that will benefit the agency, and the public, through the discipline of continuous improvement, rather than resorting to such empty managerial platitudes as “budget-scrubbing” and “top-to-bottom” review. …

We can budget based on hope. Or we can budget based on reality. This ordinance commits us to spending money that we do not know to exist. …

Ordinance 2014-0210.2 violates the Transit Strategic Plan and service guidelines, and creates additional financial impacts that are not reconciled. This compromises the integrity of our regional planning process and sets a dangerous precedent.

As of this writing, Dembowski has not publicly commented on the veto.  We will update this post if and when he does.

I share Constantine’s hope that his veto will encourage the Council to come back with a compromise ordinance that respects the integrity of the county planning process and doesn’t rely on funding the County doesn’t have.

41 Replies to “Constantine Vetoes Dembowski Ordinance in Style”

  1. I have an idea. Reallocate all existing service to those four districts who’s councilmembers voted responsibly. This way those areas will get a huge increase in transit without any impact on taxes. Sucks to be living on the outside. (Parody of the votes the other five took)

      1. First time in his five years as Executive that I’ve been truly impressed with the guy.

        Extra kudos on the refusal to mince words in the press release.

        Perhaps we’re seeing the dawn of a new Dow.

      2. I’ve been impressed with Dow’s positions on transit issues the past few years. It’s a mature and balanced approach, maybe not as urbanist as I’d ideally prefer, but better than most of the other city/county/state politicians around. And in this case it was lucky that he was in the executive’s chair or this thing would have passed. That speaks to the balance and strength of his transit vision.

  2. I readDavid L’s comment yesterday that the Dembowski ordinance passed, and my heart sank. Then I read the one immediately below it about Constantine vetoing it and was guide relieved at the speed and decisiveness with which it was rejected. Thanks for doing the right thing, Dow.

  3. The first order of business is for the council to quickly approve the proposed November cuts, as is (i.e., inlcuding the DART cuts). Metro needs an answer about the November service change, stat. Thanks, Dow, for the speed with which you moved this bizarre process to the next step!

    1. Is the second order of business asking the state DA whether Kathy Lambert is in apparent violation of conflict of interest laws?

      1. Can you point out the specific section of law she may have violated? (The Executive did a fantastic job of that with Dembowski’s ordinance. Ouch!)

      2. RCW 42.23.030. I’m not opining that she violated it, just saying that if there was a violation that would be the statutory section involved. There are also common-law duties which she may have breached.

      3. Hard to see how there’s material gain (which is a requirement of RCW 42.23.030) from an unpaid board position (I verified that she was unpaid on Hopelink’s 990).

      4. William, that’s not what the statute says. You either have to have a beneficial interest (which may be indirect) in a contract or you have to accept compensation, gratuity, or a “reward” in connection with the awarding of the contract. I haven’t reviewed case law on this point but it seems at least possible that an unpaid fiduciary of an entity could be considered to have an indirect beneficial interest in a contract benefiting the entity. More speculatively, we also don’t know whether there could have been some sort of non-monetary reward (such as an officer position, committee chairship, etc.) offered in return. Such a thing would not be compensation reportable on a 990. Again, I take no position on whether there was a violation, but I don’t see it as impossible.

  4. If you haven’t yet, be sure to send Dow a thank you at:

    Explain that while you are opposed to bus cuts in general, you are even more opposed to agency running on fairy dust and unicorn farts and the return to the dark ages where politicians and not planning experts designed our bus system.

    1. *sent*

      Its refreshing to see politicians to the right thing when they could easily just kick the can down the road.

  5. Wouldn’t it have been nicer if he had told everyone before hand that he was going to veto it? That way, they could have wasted less time last night and instead worked on a compromise that worked well for everyone.

    1. Nope, because the County Council would have just spent their time grandstanding and then passed the same proposal anyhow.

  6. So what’s the real, tactical reason Dow vetoed the bill? And don’t simply repeat his stated reason. A good politician thinks serval moves ahead. And a good politician is cunning and scheming. What’s he really up to?

    1. A good politician thinks serval moves ahead.

      True. Perhaps he has a secret reason like you’re hinting. Or, perhaps he’s thinking several months ahead and sincerely doesn’t want Metro to run out of money. As far as I can see, all signs seem to be pointing to the latter.

      1. Some ideas … If he wants to make another attempt at getting more revenue, it would be foolish to dilute his most valuable leverage, the cuts. Or, a little transit pain might help get some suburban council members defeated next election and replaced with dems. Or, if he ever wants to be Governor or Senator, him being the hero that saved transit would help.

    2. You’re the most brilliant analyst in the country. Don’t you already know what the five moves ahead are? If you don’t know, how can anyone?

    3. So what’s the real, tactical reason Dow vetoed the bill?

      Not believing in the tinkerbell approach to budgeting isn’t sufficiently

    4. So what’s the real, tactical reason Dow vetoed the bill?

      Not believing in the tinkerbell approach to budgeting isn’t sufficiently ‘tactical’ for you?

      1. Raising the fare and making Metro more efficient is the tinkerbell approach to budgeting? Just because the money would come from riders and belt-tightening instead of car or property owners, doesn’t make the money any less real.

      2. Except that Dembowski’s ordinance did none of those things, and if it had, they wouldn’t have raised nearly enough to fund the service.

      3. Fare hikes – won’t bring in anywhere near the needed amount of money.
        Making Metro more efficient – No efficiencies have been pointed out that would save anywhere near the needed amount of money. Nor is there any reason to believe there are any, as there was an audit just a few years ago whose recommendations have already been acted upon.

        Both of these facts should be obvious to anyone who has read STB as much as you have.

  7. It’s pretty obvious that Prop One was completely unnecessary and only a way for Seattle Fat Cats to tax all of King County to pay their $250,000 a year salaries. This had nothing to do with bus service or the welfare of the general public. Seattle obviously refuses to tax itself with a property tax, so I must conclude they wanted to rip off the suburbs for more loot.

    1. Please name a “Seattle Fat Cat” who makes a $250,000 annual salary from tax money.

    2. And to those drivers who make a lot of money, you deserve it!!! You worked those hours to drive buses which otherwise would have been cancelled because of noone to fill those runs. These cuts will happen, 15% now, in an orderly fashion, or much more later down the road and at a last minute haste to save costs (e.g. Pierce Transit after the explosion of their NG facility).

  8. I’m pleased with this move. It seems like a growing trend that our elected officials, faced with tough choices, take the easiest way out that they can find – either sending it back to the people for another vote or deferring a decision hoping that things will improve or that it can be ignored until they’re gone and someone else has to address it.

    This was a bold move.

    1. I do think we should be given another chance, perhaps in Fall of 2015, when we will have a greater turnout than this year. I’d rather it be done this fall, but so quickly after the failed vote seems like a bad idea. We also need to address the realities that the failed measure doesn’t only harm transit, it also harms the cities and county’s ability to maintain the roads, let alone improve them.

  9. King County Republican Party rips Constantine’s veto of Metro bus measure

    King County Republican Party Chair Lori Sotelo released the following statement on Tuesday:

    “For a brief moment, it appeared as though our county government listened to King County voters who, by soundly rejecting Proposition 1, demanded responsible and reasonable solutions to budget shortfalls,” Sotelo said. “Unfortunately, Dow Constantine is not ready to listen. His decision to veto a bill that had the bi-partisan support of elected officials throughout King County revealed his out-of-tune leadership approach.

    1. If that was a “reasonable and responsible solution”, then it is just one more reason to not elect these Republicans to office.

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