KCM Route 193 at Tukwila Park and Ride (image: Matthew Bates)

King County voters will not be asked to vote on a Metro funding measure in August after all. In a statement on Monday afternoon, Claudia Balducci announced the decision not to proceed with the countywide measure. This seems to clear the way for Seattle to run a replacement of the expiring taxes for their transportation benefit district in August.

Had the corona virus crisis not intervened, King County was expected to finalize a measure this month funding the service currently paid for by the Seattle TBD and increasing service elsewhere in the County by perhaps 450,000 hours annually (equivalent to just under 10% of total current Metro hours). The King County measure would also have funded a low income free fares program that is already scheduled to launch in June, and might have funded electrification at some bases.

The proposal had obvious challenges. Transit measures are risky with county voters even in a better environment. A loss at the ballot box in August would have meant existing Seattle taxes expiring in December, and it probably would not have been possible to run a replacement Seattle measure before the Spring. A November Seattle measure would have been awkward because it could only be filed before the day of the August election.

The county measure would have increased service on suburban routes that mostly have lower ridership than Seattle routes. Because Metro is capacity constrained at peak hours (not enough space at Metro bases until the new South King base opens in 2030), most of the suburban service increase would have been in less productive off-peak hours.

In the end, a measure to raise taxes for new services just as the economy tips into a sharp recession (and public health emergency) simply became unthinkable. Most local government meetings other than those focused on the corona virus impact were cancelled last week. With fare revenue and sales tax revenue sharply reduced, Metro finances may soon be stretched to avoid service reductions and an urgent reevaluation of base service levels is inevitable.

Where next? Balducci’s statement (see below) points to future engagement with stakeholders on progressive funding sources to meet unmet transit demand, and federal support to increase capacity. Seattle has until May 8 to get its measure on the August ballot. A 0.2% sales tax, approximately replacing the revenues from the expiring 0.1% sales tax and $60 vehicle license fee, is likely.

43 Replies to “No King County transit ballot measure this year”

  1. The current Seattle TBD taxing hasn’t delivered the promised additional Seattle service hours. Metro didn’t have enough buses, and maintenance facilities were constrained. Revenues were used instead for more service to/from Bellevue and paying for Orca cards for the destitute. IF Seattle feels obliged to tax and turn more revenues from it over to Metro now it should just impose a tax on selected large employers — no vote would be needed, they benefit from transit, their employees benefit from transit and cause traffic congestion, and sales taxes and car taxes for transit are far too high here already (FAR higher than anywhere else in the country).

    1. Seattle’s money is not paying for service to Bellevue. It does pay for a tiny bit of service outside the city on routes like the 5, 120 and E-line which are predominantly in the city, but no route serving Bellevue would meet that criteria.

      Even though Metro is constrained by the number of buses/maintenance facilities it has, Seattle’s money still makes a big difference in the amount of service. Think back at what the bus schedules were like in 2014 before this passed, when almost every route in the middle of the city ran every 30 minutes on evenings and Sundays and, after 10 PM, very few routes in the middle of the city ran more than once per hour. This is what we get to go back to if the existing TBD is left to expire and funding is not replaced.

      “and sales taxes and car taxes for transit are far too high here already (FAR higher than anywhere else in the country).”

      The rest of the country is not a model to emulate. Transit service in the rest of the country is pretty terrible. The reason why Seattle has been able to increase ridership while it was falling nearly everywhere else is that Seattle invested in more service while other places did not.

      1. Metro boardings are around 123 million annually — about the same as in 2008. Metro has vastly more revenue than it had then, and the population and employment are far higher. Point of diminishing returns? IDK, but I do know that more regressive taxing for transit would compound the financial abuse of households of little means.

      2. Looking at Metro boardings by itself, without Sound Transit, is meaningless. Metro gained riders, while some previous riders switched to Sound Transit as Link stations came online. This is a lot, as in 2008, Link did not exist, and everybody riding transit between downtown and either UW, Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley, or the airport, was on a Metro bus.

        If you consider everything, Puget Sound transit ridership since 2008 has definitely grown. The fact that Metro has able to maintain it’s bus ridership while Link replaced some of its most popular routes shows it’s service is indeed becoming more attractive.

    2. You make a good point – even if Seattle passes a new TBD, can Metro provide the hours? Or will this just go to other things. The free bus passes is nice but frankly I don’t want to hand a blank check to pass around transit money for things other than service improvements.

      1. The “blank check” problem you identify is one of the faults with how the TBD ordinance operates that Seattle’s attorneys drafted.

    3. STBD has absolutely delivered massive amounts of service hours to Seattle. The amount Metro couldn’t deliver was a small portion of Seattle’s total request, around the edges. Loss of STBD funding would be catastrophic to the Seattle network. STBD is paying for about a tenth of Metro service overall and something like a quarter of service hours within the city.

    4. The county measure was a Metro base measure that would not be used for alternative things: Metro knows when its bases will come online and would plan expansions around them. Seattle’s TBD was not Metro, and it was Durkan’s decision to divert the money to ORCA passes for schoolchildren. I thought they should have saved it for more bus service later. Although given the ideal of fare-free transit, implementing it partially for the lowest-income people makes some sense. And schoolchilren with free passes may turn into lifelong transit passengers.

      It didn’t pay for buses to Bellevue because, (A) there were no buses available for it, (B) the funding was for Seattle routes and a small percent for mostly-Seattle routes, and (C) we would have seen the increase on the 550 and 271.

      The 550 is Sound Transit so it would have been mentioned if Seattle were giving money to Sound Transit, an it would have probably been beyond the fund’s limitations since it was for an agreement between the city and Metro. The 271 may have added some 15-minute service but not much. There are no other Seattle-Bellevue routes. The 212, 214, 216, and 218 only skirt the edge of Bellevue at the Eastgate P&R; they’re not “going to Bellevue” in any meaningful sense.

      “it should just impose a tax on selected large employers … they benefit from transit, their employees benefit from transit and cause traffic congestion”

      That’s the wrong way to look at it though. Their employees and customers are residents, and if they were working elsewhere they’d still need just as much transit. The purpose of taxpayer-funded transit is to increase residents’ and visitors’ mobility on their most likely trips in aggregate, and you can’t distinguish that from benefiting employers — it’s a false dichotomy. We aren’t doing it as a favor to the employers to increase their profits, we’re doing it to optimize residents’ and inhabitants’ mobility. You can say we should tax employers because they have money and have been getting gigantic federal tax breaks since the 1980s, but that’s a different argument.

  2. Wait, don’t we vote by mail in Washington State? Delaying or cancelling elections is what states that don’t vote by mail have to do. Do we have to cancel all of our elections because of Coronavirus?

    And what about November? Can’t we just run the county measure in November (like a lot of people here have been advocating)? Why is there an “anything but November” attitude for the county measure, especially considering that there is a better chance of it passing then? Plus, there is a near certainty of having an election in November already, so it’s not even giving people an additional ballot to fill out to have the vote in November.

    Finally, “a measure to raise taxes for new services just as the economy tips into a sharp recession (and public health emergency) simply became unthinkable.” Really? It’s unthinkable to want to avoid Pierce Transit-level cuts to service across the county (and maybe the city as well)? That’s when the levy will be needed more, to stop from a catastrophic loss of service rather than a dramatic expansion of service.

    1. “Really? It’s unthinkable to want to avoid Pierce Transit-level cuts to service across the county”

      Yeah, that’s basically what I was thinking. This “take care of myself first, worry about transit later” attitude is a lot of why the cuts during the last recession were so bad.

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t deny the reality that, like it or not, lots of people do think that way. If we all know it’s not likely to pass, better to just let Seattle do its own thing, rather than leave it in limbo.

      The inevitable service cuts could be quite severe, though, in the rest of the county.

    2. I’m so confused, it’s like AlexKven read an entirely different article. There’s no mention I see of delaying elections. The issue King County is facing is that they don’t have time to get a measure on the August ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak (my guess is it complicates the public outreach and input phase), and it would likely interfere with getting Seattle’s more critical TBD on the ballot in November.

      1. I think I just have a different read on the reason for cancelling it. I interpreted it as cancelling the vote due to Coronavirus in a similar way that other states around the country are trying to delay their presidential primary due to Coronavirus. That being my contention, my solution is just let them vote, they send ballots in the mail!

        Alternatively, if it’s too late for August, just do it in November. Even if it’s not too late for August, do it in November anyway (and combine the city and county measure). That really is a risky proposition, but Seattle does have the advantage that a transit funding measure would likely pass at any time, whereas a county measure has a good chance at passing on November 2020, November 2024, and November 2028. Metro has a long-range plan to build out, so they really need to get going on this.

        The public outreach is a real issue I guess. Couldn’t they do it in a way that’s 100% virtual? I don’t know the actual outreach requirements, but it seems to me that less than probably 0.1% of voters will be reached in person anyway.

      2. Chris is right. It has nothing to with the ability to vote. It has everything to with drafting the legislation as well as organizing the campaign. There simply is no time for either right now. This is not the county reversing itself, and pulling the original measure, because there was no measure. As Dan wrote, nothing had been finalized. Maybe they were close to an agreement, maybe they weren’t. But it doesn’t matter, because they weren’t going to meet and hash out the details — they are worried about other things (like the virus).

        Likewise with the campaign. You can’t go door to door, you can’t hand out fliers in a public place; many of your usual campaign strategies go out the window.

        In contrast, the city pretty much knows what it wants, and it is pretty simple: a re-up. I don’t expect a big discussion, or any real debate.

      3. I’m with AlexKleven (sp?). Too many transit voters just don’t vote patriotically regularity and we have seen what happens when this is the case.

  3. post and comments do not mention Harborview measure that county has chosen to run in November General Election. A recession is a tough time to approve tax increases. A silver lining: this will give the Legislature a regular session in non-election year to consider changes to the TBD and transit funding.

  4. post has a picture of a southbound Route 193 from before the high floor articulated buses were retired. It is a tough route. It is transfer adverse at both ends: on First Hill, it winds around to several hospitals; it serves several park-and-rides, having to weave in and out of congested I-5 South.

  5. With 14 new Link stations slated to open by 2024/5 outside of Seattle but in King County as well as the 405 and 522 Stride and more Sounder parking, I see funding Metro outside of Seattle to be increasingly politically challenging. The voters see ST projects under construction now, and swing voters living outside of the City are apt to think that ST is “enough”.

    Seattle TBD replacement funding is not as difficult to sell vis-a-vis ST. There are just four Seattle Link stations opening (and most is out of the daily views of Seattle City residents except at stations) and no other ST project completions (except right along 145th city limits and a big maybe for the 130th station).

    Going with the Seattle TBD renewal vote seems to be the best fit by far.

    1. Make that 16! I forget about the two additional Redmond stations.

      After 2025, Seattle will be down the list of cities with Link stations per capita. Bellevue will be higher.

    2. I don’t know about the rest of King County, but I believe that on the Eastside, the appetite for raising taxes to pay for more bus service is greater than ever. Both jobs and residents are increasing rapidly, as is the traffic. Most of the new housing is apartments, near bus routes. Not to mention that most of the newcomers – younger and less white – are not as averse to taxes as longtime residents. I do not think the imminent Sound Transit projects change this calculus at all.

      1. I think that is why much of what Al said merely needs to be amended. By and large he is correct, except instead of “Seattle”, it is “Seattle and parts of the East Side”. Much of King County sprawls, and transit is a tough sell. But in Seattle, and various parts of the East Side, you see a lot of suddenly very dense areas that of course have an appetite for good transit.

      2. I’d note that many of the new Eastside apartments and existing and new office towers are near one of the 11 new Link stations. Add to that the new large parking garages, and I think there is a pretty good chance that those people won’t use Metro at all. They’ll only use ST. . I’m sure there is support for Metro as there is across the county; I’m merely talking about the swing voters out there.

      3. Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland could coordinate Seattle-like measures in their cities.

        Some people won’t take a bus to Link but others will. Canadian cities have discovered that if you have robust routes, people will take them, even in suburban areas. The only full-time frequent route in the Eastside is the B. A couple more will be added on the 21st. When people see 15-minute routes, they’re more likely to ride them.

        Some of the swing voters will vote for transit even if they don’t use it. Often they have family members or colleagues who use it.

      4. Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland don’t necessarily need a KCM levy to boost their service. STX covers the SR520 corridor for Kirkland and Redmond, the RR-B already covers the most logical grid route in Bellevue, and Link and Stride will connect all of the significant job centers. The rest of those cities are low density residential with minimal grid, so hard to serve with fixed route transit. Having B/R/K experiment with and invest in various flavors of microtransit might end up being an effective way to drive transit ridership, and the cities should be more agile than KCM to fail fast.

        For example, in Bellevue almost everything that’s not a SF home will be within 15 minute walk of a Link station, so investing in better bike/ped infrastructure is better than running a few extra buses, and an urban people mover through the “grand connection” with high frequency vehicles is likely better suited than traditional 40’/60′ buses and can use dedicated ROW that wouldn’t work for a bus.

      5. I’d note that many of the new Eastside apartments and existing and new office towers are near one of the 11 new Link stations. Add to that the new large parking garages, and I think there is a pretty good chance that those people won’t use Metro at all. They’ll only use ST.

        I suppose, but that is not the way politics work. My point is that density corresponds to transit use. With ST3 there were places like the Central Area, Fremont and Greenwood that got very little out of the projects (i. e. they may never use ST3 at all) yet voted overwhelmingly in favor.

        The same is true on the East Side. I also think there will be plenty of people who recognize that while East Link will be great, it won’t connect everywhere. Spring District to Factoria, for example. You might take the train for the first leg, but then transfer to a Metro bus. You’ve also got trips like Redmond or Kirkland to the UW (where Link will never be competitive) or areas like Totem Lake, where there is newfound density, yet the train is nowhere to be found.

        As Mike suggested, Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland could coordinate Seattle-like measures in their cities. If anything, I would be afraid of Metro’s recent restructures. Voters have been known to take out their frustrations in illogical ways (e. g. voting against a school levy because the board supports busing). I could easily see voters in Kirkland cutting off their nose to spite their face, even though Kirkland is probably the area that has the most to gain from new Metro spending. Much of Redmond can get by (as you suggest) with the train, since it covers their two biggest destinations (downtown Bellevue and downtown Seattle). Bellevue is a little more complicated, but similar. Kirkland, on the other hand, is really not guaranteed much of anything with ST3 (except the train from the park and ride to Issaquah that won’t be hear for years and years).

      6. Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland don’t necessarily need a KCM levy to boost their service. STX covers the SR520 corridor for Kirkland and Redmond, the RR-B already covers the most logical grid route in Bellevue, and Link and Stride will connect all of the significant job centers.

        Sound Transit doesn’t run that many buses on 520, and it is unlikely they will suddenly decide to take up the bulk of trips (where would they get the money)? RapidRide is run by Metro, and funded by Metro. Just because a bus is designated RapidRide doesn’t mean it magically has great frequency in perpetuity (or even when launched). There are plenty of job centers — and other destinations — that won’t be served by Sound Transit for a very long time, if ever.

        I’m no expert on Bellevue, but I did run across this zoning map (https://cobgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=ff2f7a57a0b0438a80b48a7dffb519c0) and it is clear that there are plenty of apartments outside the RapidRide/Stride/Link corridors. Likewise with jobs in the area, colleges, high schools, clinics — all places people visit using transit. The notion that somehow ST will replace Metro for the bulk of transit use seems farfetched. It will become increasingly important, but like Seattle, people will depend heavily on Metro directly or indirectly.

  6. Can anyone tell me what percentage of revenue it costs to make transit available to people who presently can’t afford a pass?

    Because if having the pass makes it possible for someone to ride who otherwise couldn’t, isn’t there a chance that its possession might create another taxpayer when they find employment?

    And especially so for people just beginning their working lives as they progress through middle- and high school. Since minimum age for the Washington State Legislature is 18, we could gain more than a life-long pro-transit voter if we treat them right.

    I really do think transit stands to gain a lot of benefit, in addition to preventing a lot of problems, if we find ways of actively incorporating young passengers into a system they actively consider theirs. Watch a two-year-old on an early train-ride, and you’ll see how many already do.

    Mark Dublin

  7. It’s painful to read commenter and commenter incorrectly analyze why KC nixed the transit ballot. If anyone is new to reading this comment section, please don’t be fooled by [ad hom]

      1. Like [OT], [AH] is an editing tool to keep the discussion focused. In this case, idea is to keep the merits of a course of action under scrutiny, regardless of its author. Which in an international epidemic, one nurse’s scratch on a death-certificate can change.

        From about ten years’ experience, mostly since the opening of Link, have learned that if one of these gets added to any text of mine, best thing is to think thirty seconds and make it [GTTP!]

        It was only after being forced to Get To The Point of mozzarella and pepperoni that Qanon managed to start getting my pizza out of that basement in New York before it got cold.

        Mark Dublin

      1. Me? Franklin Roosevelt had died a couple months earlier, but not the gunfire. Have always thought that one’s generation is not so much a matter of calendar date, but a set of experiences, including things past along from one’s immediate elders, consciously or not.

        My next-to-arrive brother, born 1948, I always thought of as the first of his own generation, as his comfort with the double-b term tended to prove. I always felt more like the last of my Dad’s.

        Maybe what I sensed from my father’s people was our already dwindling numbers. And from the Class of ’48 a fast-moving wave. But a lot more to the point:

        An emergency loan program signed by Franklin Roosevelt saved my father’s widowed mother and her five kids, and her tailor shop in Denver, from being repossessed. And a packet of Federal job application forms his mother handed him along with a train ticket to Washington DC began Dad’s career in Federal credit unions.

        By today’s reckoning, Franklin Roosevelt was no angel. He signed, and stood by, the order incarcerating Japanese US citizens. The bomber crew whose failure to return destroyed my Uncle Harold’s sanity…civilian-targeted incendiary bombing missions like his were a horrible war crime which the enemy’s identical ones – sorry- just didn’t justify. They were Nazi’s, we weren’t.

        We lose our hearing as we age. But I don’t think it’d hurt the Democrats any to state simply for the record that Government is not by its nature either a benefactor nor a tyrant. It’s ours, the People’s, set of tools to create together what we can’t do alone.

        Was a time that saying that was Centrist. No matter how many of the super-rich said it was Communist.

        Mark Dublin

  8. Curious to know what working from home has done to toll revenues. Have to imagine that whatever was being collected is significantly down. If that decline threatens bond payments then, well, we have a problem.

  9. Where did Claudia Badassuchi go?

    I remember her, Claudia actually STOOD for things. Things like public transit and civility and COURAGE.

    I want Badassuchi back.

    Furthermore, either go to the voters in November or prepare for a massive rollback in transit service levels. OK? There is no logic behind this decision, ONLY FEAR. Change my mind.

    1. PS: Going to the voters in November should be King County Metro’s de facto elected board. If they wimp out, then you go Seattle.

      Enough of this. Our values are being tested and this is no time to wilt.

    2. The massive cuts will only be in Seattle, and Seattle can still replace the funding in November.

      A recession-related slash is a different thing, and it’s too early to say exactly how to respond to it, or to just redirect the money from this planned measure. A lot of government services would be hurting, and it would really require a comprehensive approach by all levels of government, not one-offs in certain sectors.

  10. Dan, this afternoon I’ve put some effort into defending Seattle Transit Blog’s refusal to let commenters turn our professional discussions into personal attacks on each other.

    It’s also really embarrassing to me to be forced to quarrel openly with any STB editor’s judgement as to content. All I saw in the term “boomer” was my opening to let readers in on times and events to which my own years gave me increasingly privileged access.

    The hammer really came down out of nowhere. Would I dare say “Millenial?” If you’ll send me your present e-mail address or phone number, because STB is so important to me, would like to talk.

    Mark Dublin

  11. How much of a chance does a Seattle-only measure even have at this point? Things are looking pretty grim, but maybe will be better by the fall?

    1. I think it would still pass. Of course there would be folks (Seattle Times editorial board) saying we shouldn’t raise taxes during a recession to pay for something like transit. But there will be plenty of others saying the opposite — this really isn’t a great time to lay off a bunch of bus drivers, either. This is not “new spending”, but replacing the old spending, which makes it an easier sell. As the economy pulls out of the recession, and things get back to normal (whenever that is) we will need good transit as much as ever.

  12. I do think Seattle should pass its own version in November.

    Transit ridership is down due to the virus, but it is likely to go up again due to the recession the virus will inevitably cause. There are going to be a lot of people out of work who won’t necessarily be able to make their car payment.

    For those of us who were in Seattle during 2009/2010, I expect a similar situation in 2021.

    As far as sales taxes go, I suspect the state will finally be forced to reckon with being so dependent on sales taxes. There are going to be massive budget shortfalls at every level, while at the same time Washington now has a large high income workforce that could easily make up the shortfall with an income tax.

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