This past Monday morning, Transportation Choices hosted a community briefing on the upcoming Yes for Seattle Transit campaign, which will campaign for a Yes vote in this November’s election on the Seattle-only transit funding measure we’ve previously called “Plan D.” I attended the briefing along with about 100 community activists, politicians, transit professionals, and other journalists. Little new information was presented at the briefing, which served mostly as a kickoff event for the campaign, but it’s a good opportunity to remind our Seattle-resident readers what the ballot measure and campaign are about.
The ballot measure, primarily championed by Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, would include a $60 vehicle license fee and a 0.1% sales tax, imposed only within the city, to benefit the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). These are the same funding sources that would have been imposed countywide under Proposition 1, defeated in April’s special election. Most of the funds raised would be devoted to saving bus service on routes that exclusively or primarily (at least 80% of stops within Seattle) serve Seattle. A small portion of the funds would be set aside to fund core routes between Seattle and other jurisdictions, in partnership with those jurisdictions. The mayor and Councilmember Rasmussen expect that the measure would raise roughly enough money to forestall all of the currently planned or expected Metro cuts in Seattle except those scheduled for this coming September, which are expected to go through as planned and not be restored. Metro has indicated that it is ready to work with Seattle (or any other jurisdiction that’s interested) to restore service using local funding.
Mayor Murray has made clear, and reiterated at the briefing, that he sees this funding as a stopgap, to be used only until there is a permanent, countywide source of funding that restores Metro service to current levels.
Given that the defeated Proposition 1 enjoyed 66% support within the City of Seattle, and the November general election is expected to have a more pro-transit electorate, the players involved expect the measure to pass. The principal source of controversy with respect to the measure, to the extent there is any, is a sentence in the resolution authorizing the measure that reads:
The first priority for the funding is to preserve existing routes and prevent King County Metro’s proposed February 2015 service cuts and restructures.
Some activists who spoke during the briefing’s Q&A session made it clear that they see this sentence as preventing any restructure of Metro service for the entire length of time Seattle is funding Metro through the STBD. Both Mayor Murray and Councilmember Rasmussen disagreed with this interpretation, but neither wanted to discuss specific service decisions at this event, and neither would address the merits of restructuring. In any case, since the City Council voted to put the measure on the ballot, King County punted on its originally proposed February 2015 restructures, which would have brought major change to the Seattle bus network. The County Council voted instead to cut service for February 2015, but to decide the specifics of the cuts at a later date.