The most progressive change we can make to the proposed Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD) is to make it larger. Even if we focus on funding transit service as we urged last week, the initial proposal of a .1% sales tax with nothing to replace the current $60 Vehicle Licensing Fee will mean big transit cuts. Those cuts won’t be academic, they will mean cutting critical service just when many Seattleites will need it the most.
After I-976 passed last year it took away the city’s ability to include a Vehicle Licensing Fee as part of the new TBD. This would mean about a 50% cut to the TBD funding in normal times, but in the post Covid-19 recession, the cuts are much bigger. Sales tax receipts have fallen off a cliff and the recovery could be slow. We should be looking to use all the funding available in the TBD, the full .2% sales tax, so that we can return service after as the recession wanes – but we should also be looking for emergency funding for next year.
Though sales tax is a regressive funding source, it’s far better than cutting the transit people will increasingly rely on. This recession is hitting people who were already struggling to afford Seattle the hardest. About 19% of Seattle households don’t own a car and that number will almost certainly rise – cars are expensive. Inaction means forcing people on a tight budget to buy a car or continue to maintain a car because transit doesn’t serve their needs.
Metro should also be looking to structure service to match the demand that exists rather than demand that used to exist. Focus funding on supporting people trying to get to jobs that don’t conform to 9-5 schedules downtown. Transit needs to be flexible and support people’s individual economic recoveries.
We have to think about this in post Covid-19 terms. This is a ballot measure for November with funding that won’t start until April of 2021. As the pandemic fades and more people have to rely on transit, demand will go up sharply. Our transit agencies will need to be responsive and meet that demand where it is – and have the funding to back it up.
We should also be looking to improve transit funding for the future. The legislature has the power to enact progressive options for future transit funding packages. A future TBD should be at the King County level and use a progressive funding source. That work needs to start now so that we’re not having this same conversation again in a few years.
There is a Seattle City Council meeting on the proposed Transit Benefit District this morning at 10 am. Please join us in urging the council to be bold and save our transit by:
- Increasing funding as much as possible (both .2% sales tax and emergency 2021 funding);
- Focusing funding on Transit Service; and
- Structure transit service to better serve the needs of people who are transit dependent