Tomorrow at 5:30 p.m., the Seattle City Council — acting in its capacity as the Board of Directors of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) — will hear public comment and consider a resolution, introduced by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, that would implement Mayor Ed Murray’s “Plan D” to save most Metro service in the city of Seattle by using the STBD’s taxing authority.
As a refresher, the Rasmussen/Murray “Plan D” would impose a flat $60 vehicle license fee (VLF) and an 0.1% sales-tax increase within the City of Seattle, after a public vote to be held in November. These are the same taxes the defeated Proposition 1 would have imposed countywide through a separate TBD. The VLF would be permanent, while the sales tax increase would last for ten years, the maximum allowed under state law. The resolution requires the STBD to hold a hearing and introduce a resolution to phase out both taxes if the county acquires state or regional funding to replace them.
The plan would not prevent Metro’s September 2014 cuts or restore the service to be cut in September 2014. It would provide “comparable [service levels] to what was provided by Metro Transit following its September 2014 service changes,” with any additional money going to buy new service according to the Seattle Transit Master Plan and Metro’s service guidelines. Left open in the resolution’s wording is the important but politically difficult question of whether Metro would implement some or all of the restructures it planned for various parts of Seattle in February, June, and September 2015. We would argue that, given additional funding, the network changes proposed in most of those restructures — with the notable exceptions of the extreme West Seattle “chainsaw restructure” and the cuts to Beacon Hill service — would be an improvement over today’s service patterns for most riders. (Late edit: There’s nothing good in the proposed Magnolia restructure either.)
Another notable feature of the plan is that it would fund only routes with 80% or more of their stops in the City of Seattle. This would prevent the funding from restoring or enhancing certain routes which provide core service to Seattle neighborhoods, particularly in the south end, but also in the far north of the city. As it happens, none of the all-day routes in question (RapidRide E, 106, 107, 120, 124, 128, 131, 132, 345, 346, 347, 348, and 372) are currently planned to suffer meaningful cuts. It is unclear, however, how such routes would be treated in any service improvements if the taxes generate extra funding.
(Note: Edited to make clear that the Licata/Sawant plan retains the VLF.) The Rasmussen/Murray plan is competing with an alternative plan proposed by Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant. The Licata/Sawant plan would
impose retain the VLF, but replace the 0.1% sales tax increase with an employee hours tax (widely known as a “head tax”) of $18 per employee per year on employers and an increase in the commercial parking tax from 12.5% to 17.5% (sales tax, which is separate from this tax, is also imposed on commercial parking). Licata and Sawant argue that the taxes their plan would impose are far more progressive than the VLF and sales tax. They also claim the plan could forestall the September 2014 service cuts, although Metro has not said whether it would be able to restore the service in time, given that preparations for the September 2014 service change are well underway. Opponents, which include the UW and most of the heavy hitters in Seattle’s business community, charge that the “head tax” would slow job growth and that the parking tax increase would give Seattle the highest total tax on parking in the country. To date, no council members other than Licata and Sawant have indicated support for their plan. While it appears they will introduce the plan as an amendment to Murray’s resolution, they have not yet made legislative text public.