Seattle City Council (32884844902)

Today at 2pm, the Seattle Council is voting to send renewal of the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) to the November ballot. As eight of nine council members are already on record in support, passage of something is inevitable. The uncertain parts are what amendments will go with it.

The baseline legislation is a renewal of the 0.1% sales tax for 4 years. This is a significant cut from the status quo both because it doesn’t include the vehicle license fee from 2014, but also because sales tax revenues have fallen sharply.

  • Amendment 1 would extend the term to six years.
  • Amendment 2 would raise the sales tax rate to 0.2%; this roughly replaces the lost vehicle license revenue for a typical level of economic activity.
  • Amendment 3 would extend the ORCA opportunity program from seniors, youth, and low income people to include “essential workers” as commonly understood during the pandemic.

Amendment 2 is clearly an effort to devote more resources to transit, which is straightforward for advocates. Amendment 1 depends on your read of the political and legal situation. Amendment 3 is a difficult tradeoff between social justice objectives and getting as much bus service as possible on the road.

There are also rumors of an amendment to split the difference at 0.15%.

You can sign up to testify, beginning at 12pm, here.

50 Replies to “Seattle TBD vote is today”

  1. Do people who support a Seattle TBD in order to get better transit, also support wealthier suburban communities spending more to get better schools?

    1. They already tend to but the issues isn’t the community spending more on schools it’s that on average that wealthier schools get more per student from the state and federal sources per student then poorer districts. So it’s not quite the same

      1. I hadn’t heard that about state and federal funding; do you know anywhere I can go for more information?

      2. State funding means at minimum the state’s basic funding of education, which is a property tax. That’s distinct from local property-tax levies that raise additional money for schools.

        Federal funding means at least the school lunch program for poor students. That was started in the Depression when the government began buying agricultural staples to to put a floor on their price and keep farmers from going bankrupt. The excess food is distributed to schools and food banks. There may also be federal grants for special-education programs.

      3. I believe that the State funds K-12 classroom instruction on a per pupil basis. So “rich districts” don’t get more per student than poor ones. That said, since the external environment is much more “pro-learning” in the richer districts, the State actually should fund the poorer district with higher per pupil funding.

      4. While that is the case now in Washington it hasn’t always been the case. nor is it the case with federal funding (where it is based of a school and districts test scores) or in other states. My sister is a teacher in Las Vegas, NV (CCSD). They are one of the largest districts in the country and they receive signifacantly less funding per pupil then other districts in Nevada from the State

      5. Sorry, Jonathan, but Sound Transit, Metro and the Seattle City Council don’t serve Las Vegas. While “averages” might be good for national political discussion, Las Vegas’ school funding really isn’t germane to this discussion.

      6. Tom you are correct but the federal government still assigns school funding the same way regardless of state based on test scores. just looking at local state budgets you can see the glaring difference based on local funding reflecting in how much additional funds a district gets from the DOE.

      7. While “averages” might be good for national political discussion, Las Vegas’ school funding really isn’t germane to this discussion.

        Yes it is. It is a great example of the difference between the Seattle STB funding, and school funding. In Nevada, rich school districts fund their schools really well, which means there is little political pressure to fund poor districts. The same thing happens in Washington State. It happens to such a degree that people had to bring suit (twice) to get adequate school funding state wide. (Side Note: I was a plaintiff on that first case, when I was a kid/student). Both times the plantiffs won, which mean that both times, the state was underfunding poor school districts. That is precisely the political problem that exists with school funding here, and in most states (including Nevada).

        But that is not the case with local transit funding. People in Seattle will continue to push for more funding of transit at every level (county, regional, state).

      8. Even rich school districts that fund their schools “really well” are just getting up toward the average education level and teachers’ salaries in other industrialized countries.

    2. I’m not saying the funding source is the same between schools and transit. I’m asking, is everyone ok with an enhanced level of quality with other public services, like schools?

      1. Enhancement programs and frills in the buildings are certainly at the behest of local taxpayers; there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. People want to have a good education for their kids.

        But Ross is right about the actual classroom environment: schools serving the least-prepared students — who are almost universally those from economically challenged households — should get the best teachers with financial rewards for undertaking a difficult task and extra funding for smaller class sizes throughout the “tough” schools. Funding should be provided for abundant para-educators, especially to help students in the younger grades master basic skills. Those para-educators should be well paid also and ideally should have significant representation from the same community as the children they assist.

        These sorts of expenditures are an investment in children which pays off at returns of hundreds of percent in length of life, productivity, and economic contribution for the adults who emerge from the programs they fund.

    3. I can’t speak for everyone, but the short answer is no. Having wealthier districts spend more creates a political problem. Wealthy districts spend a lot, and poor districts are underfunded. School needs are universal. If anything, it is the poor districts that should have more funding, not less. But local funding of school districts creates the opposite — a common problem that has been reported repeatedly.

      Theoretically this could happen with transit funding. However, in this case, it won’t. Transit funding will be as popular as ever in Seattle, regardless of how this turns out. A county wide or state wide proposal to increase county or state wide transit will pass overwhelmingly in Seattle, even if there is a lot of local funding. That’s the big difference.

      Of course there is another issue, which is that if you are focused on ridership, you have more to gain by spending money on transit in Seattle than just about anywhere else in the state. That means that if you had a regional or statewide transit funding package, and focused on ridership per dollar spent (or rider time saved per dollar spent) you would disproportionately spend it in Seattle. Thus you can easily make the case that the additional funding in Seattle is simply smart governance. The same can’t be said for spending additional money for schools in wealthy areas.

      1. Seems like the solution for both (transit & education) is to allow both types of funding. Don’t limit local funding and use statewide funding to ensure poorer district get more money, both to mitigate less local funding and to devote more resources to those to need it (generally in poorer districts).

        Communities can fritter away money on bad school spending just like we can with bad transit projects; unions can get greedy, contractors are corrupt, etc., but in general money is well spent in both sectors. Blocking a wealthy district from spending their money to invest in their own community is the same pettiness as eastern Washington blocking Seattle from taxing itself to fund more transit. There can be rules around debt, transparency, etc., but in general let communities tax themselves if they want.

      2. Don’t limit local funding …

        But again, there is a difference.

        There is no political harm in passing this (or any other) local transit proposal.

        In contrast, allowing wealthy districts to fund their schools causes other districts to be underfunded. We know this for a fact. The court has ruled that way twice (the latest being the McCleary ruling).

        Thus it is quite reasonable to limit local funding in the case of schools, but pointless to limit local funding for transit.

      3. The problem is the state underfunding a baseline of education. Whether local districts fund additional education or not doesn’t change that. It would only do that if you think local districts are pressuring their legislatures not to raise the baseline because they want to have an advantage. But taxes are taxes, and what’s the difference between $1000 to bring everyone in the state or just your district to the same level? It’s the same amount out of your pocket.

      4. The difference, Mike, is attitudes towards schools tend to be very parochial. By that I mean that parents focus on *their* schools, more than anything. Parents at say, Mercer Island, are primarily focused on Mercer Island schools. They will give money — often lots of money — to their schools, but very little to other schools. At the same time they prefer lower taxes (unlike Seattle). That means that a local levy will pass quite easily, but they will elect a state representative who opposes similar statewide funding of education. This is extremely common in wealthy districts across the country. They oppose taxes, unless they are going to *their* kids.

        In contrast, transit doesn’t work that way. The only areas that want lots of transit for *their* riders, are the same people who want lots of transit for *all* riders. Undoubtedly. A levy that would improve transit in say, Yakima, would probably get more votes in Seattle than Yakima itself.

        At the same time, people in Mercer Island are going to be just a little more interested in transit in other areas then they would schools. That’s because all their kids go to local schools, but the adults often take transit out of the district. So transit in Bellevue or Seattle matters a lot more than schools in those areas.

        Getting back to schools, there are other problems. Consider the contrast between Tukwila and Federal Way. My guess is the voters in both areas are very similar. But historically, Federal Way struggled passing school levies, while Tukwila did just fine. That is because the tax *rates* in Federal Way were much higher, even for the same level of schooling. That’s because Tukwila includes Southcenter, which is (or at least was) very valuable land. Federal Way, on the other hand, is largely just residential. In general, the more you localize taxes, the less equitable they become.

        One of the few times that local funding makes sense is transit. Of course, in an ideal world the state (or better yet) the federal government would fund all transit. They would address funding in a just and equitable manner based on the needs and expected use of each area. Funding would be at a state (or national) level, with taxes based on wealth.

        But we don’t live in that reality. As we’ve seen time and time again, much of the state opposes those sorts of taxes, even they aren’t even paying them. In contrast, not only do more densely packed areas want more transit funding, but they can make better use of it. Even if Mercer Island suddenly fell in love with the idea of transit, there is no way that they would have the ridership per dollar spent that Seattle does. That’s why the answer to the answer to Sam’s question is “No”. The political realities are simply different.

        [All of these stereotypes are just that. They are only for illustrative purposes, and are quite likely out of date. But the general idea (that exists throughout the county, and I’m sure in other countries as well) remains.]

      5. I generally agree with what RossB said at JULY 27, 2020 AT 4:37 PM. I would simply add that Seattle being so dense and also having so many opposed to affordable housing in their neighborhood, it’s really important to have additional transit funding from Seattle. The needs are truly greater there than in say Stanwood or Mukilteo, but every community should have the option to buy more transit service from their county-level transit provider.

    4. And why would you be bringing this up on a transit blog post? At any rate, the issue here is “quantity” more than quality. We’re not talking anything luxurious here. Metro runs the same models of busses in Seattle as in south county. Seattle *needs* more transit because it is more densely populated and has more transit users and transit dependent people. Period! In fact many routes in Seattle have had insufficient capacity even with the current level of TBD.

      1. And why would you be bringing this up on a transit blog post?

        Because Sam is a provocateur. Some call him a troll, but if so, he is at least a fairly rational, and often quite amusing one. He is often trying to stir things up, but he rarely engages in the nonsensical, illogical argument trolling that is common on public forums. That is why I prefer calling him a provocateur, which I assume he finds amusing, because I think French is one of the 14 languages he knows.

    5. Ross and Mike make great points. the other thing I think we need to remember that Transportation and Education are two different things. While a rural school will likely spend the equivalent amount per student on education once the building is built as Larger district. An area like Seattle will need to spend more on Buses and have the density to justify Light Rail, while a city like Puyallup or anywhere east of the mountains can get by with a few bus routes at 30 – 60 minute headways and see significant ridership.

  2. Transportation’s a convenience. Education determines your chances in life. And also, how much you’re able to contribute to the functioning of your country. That’s why I support every single child in the United States getting the best education the whole country can afford. Call in defense spending. But district, city, county, state, or Federal, no problem with wealthy people and places contributing extra to the whole system if they want to.

    Mark Dublin

    1. If wealthy people want a (perceived) better education, and they are willing to spend the money, isn’t that what private schools are for???

      1. Yeah, but they often want their wealthy neighbors to chip in as well. They also want it both ways — they want a Cadillac education, but with enough kids so that they compete in various sports and have a good band.

  3. Should read “Call IT defense spending”, but the kids might get a kick out of watching the check get delivered by a helicopter “gunship”.

    Mark Dublin

  4. I wonder how much amendment 3 would actually impact the budget. Essential workers who are already low income would qualify anyway, and wealthy doctors aren’t going to ride the bus, anyway.

    I suppose, if “Orca opportunity program” includes free passes, paid for at the full retail price, going to wealthy doctors who never ride the bus, and never will, that would be problematic. In practice, I highly doubt that would be a real concern. People who don’t ride and don’t plan to ride aren’t going to go through the time and trouble of applying for a bus pass from the city, even if it’s free.

    1. I also wonder how it would actually work. If you give ORCA cards to kids, seniors and low income residents, then you aren’t likely to have much overlap with businesses and institutions that provide free ORCA cards. But if you focus on a particular field (medicine) you are bound to. What happens in that case? Is a big hospital going to keep giving out ORCA cards, or are they going to drop that, knowing that the city will pick up the slack.

  5. note stock photo of 2019 Council. most of the 2020 meetings have been virtual. such fare subsidies could be means tested; what of wealthy seniors? the TBD is considering less money on more things: ORCA, Via, essential workers. Do not employers already provide ORCA to almost all essential workers?

    1. Only large companies and institutions, which are required/strongarmed/incentivized to implement strategies to keep their SOV mode share down. Small employers generally don’t. And it’s mostly companies in large urban centers like downtown, First Hill, and the U-District. If you work outside those centers, your company has only a couple hundred people, and they come from a wide area where people don’t traditionally commute via transit, then there’s probably no employer pass and no government pressure to start one. There are incentives like tax breaks, and the bulk cost is based on the employees’ usage or an estimated usage, not the retail price.

    2. The fare subsidy is flat per rider, so like UBI it’s inherently progressive. There are equity implications of investing in, for example, commuter oriented expresses vs all day local service, which is all accounted for in Metro’s overall short & long term service planning calculus.

    3. I find it ironic that the city council is considering giving one class of essential workers (those in the medical field) a monthly subsidy, while they are considering laying off another class of essential workers (bus drivers). It makes no sense. What good is that monthly pass if you have to wait forever for your bus? Aren’t the bus drivers — some of whom literally lost their lives providing essential transportation during this pandemic — deserving of more respect?

      1. It is not ironic at all. If the demand for buses is down, then the demand for bus drivers is down. It has nothing to do with heroics or being “essential”.

        Additionally, if driving a bus during a pandemic is risky, then the best thing we can do to protect our bus drivers is not to have an unnecessary number of drivers out in harms way. We should right-size the service.

      2. This is not based on how many buses Metro needs. It’s based on the expiration date of the 2015 levy and whether the city council thinks 0.1% or 0.2% looks more appealing on a ballot. How many times do I have to say that some routes are full or close to full now when when most people are supposedly working from home or unemployed? “Full” has been redefined, but we don’t know how many months or years this definition of full will remain, so we have to assume it will go into next year and thus be relevant to the levy. Seattle did not go adding tons of service hours beyond beyond what Metro’s metrics recommended, it’s just fulfilling Metro’s recommendations that Metro couldn’t afford. There aren’t ghost buses driving around with no riders. One or two trips maybe, but not whole driver shifts. And if there were, those would be the safest buses for drivers because there wouldn’t be people getting on bringing germs.

      3. @Mike Orr,

        Of course this is being driven by the expiration of the current levy. But with ridership so depressed due to the virus, the question of what level to re-up at is very pertinent. Obviously the answer is not 100%.

        Additionally, current Metro ridership is undoubtably highly inflated compared to actual need. Despite the “essential trips” banners, a high percentage of current ridership is hardly “essential” and is merely a function of the fact that Metro isn’t charging fares yet. On the last bus I rode fully half the ridership appeared to be riding for non-transportation reasons. When Metro starts charging fares again these riders will disappear.

        But, yes, additional route restructures will be necessary, but Metro should also be more aggressive about forcing transfers to Link. LR can transport more people per operator, and can do it while better protecting that operator. That is a plus for all involved.

      4. Metro is changing the sign from “Essential trips only” to “Masks required” one bus at a time. If Phase 2 businesses are open then people can take transit to them. I would still keep it to a moderate number, once or twice a week.

        Obviously we should debate what future ridership will be, how important 10-15 minute service is if ridership is diminished, and how many service hours Metro needs for that. But the bill is not related to any of this. It’s based on keeping the 0.1% rate the same because it looks neat on paper. The council has done no analysis of what ridership will be, how 10-15 minute service benefits the city even if ridership is lower, or how many hours Metro needs.Metro has said it can “probably keep the 15-minue level at 0.1%”. We need a “certainly”, not a “probably”. And we need certainty that it will continue until 10pm every day, not just until 6pm weekdays. Metro and the council have been ambiguous about that.

      5. It is not ironic at all. If the demand for buses is down, then the demand for bus drivers is down.

        Sigh. How many times must I correct such ignorant arguments. First of all, *demand* will not be down as soon as the pandemic is over. Demand will, in fact, be higher than when the first proposal was past. That is because demand is largely about population density, and density has increased.

        Second of all, this is not a supply and demand issue. Transit is not a commodity. It is a public service. Like all public services, demand is largely irrelevant. If library use drops ten percent, should we just randomly close one of the neighborhood libraries? Of course not, that would mean those patrons have to go across town to get a book. It means that after school kids have no place to go (unless they schlep across town as well).

        If transit demand drops ten percent, then cutbacks on service mean the same thing: hardship. Riders have less frequent buses, or no bus at all in their neighborhood. That would be a stupid approach, and of course, become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The drop in ridership would not be caused by a loss in demand, but a drop in quality of service. It would also be stupid because there is no way that in a couple years transit ridership will be that low. Once the pandemic is over (which is likely to happen in less than a year) ridership will follow service, as it always has.

    4. Believe the discounted senior fare is required by Federal law (for transit systems that accept federal support, e.g. almost all of them) and cannot be means tested.

      1. That’s right, Alex. It’s particularly a backwards law in places with lots of wealthy retirees (who get discounts) that have to hire low-wage workers who rely on transit (who don’t get discounts) to maintain their homes.

      2. Yeah, but at least it gets more seniors to avoid driving. The same is true with the youth ORCA card. If you were focused on safety, then “senior” would probably kick in around 70, and “youth” would keep going into around 30. Still, this is better than nothing from a safety standpoint.

  6. If we permanently embrace free Orca cards for youth, we need to encourage the school district to develop a companion education program using transit. Offering a free ride but not making riding part of the consciousness of students is not taking advantage of a huge opportunity to inspire future generations of riders. It’s the least that the school system could do to show gratitude for the public subsidy we are giving the students as well as saving the district money by discouraging the efforts to manage localized traffic and parking problems (assuming the schools reopen someday).

    From basics like teaching first-graders how to ride a bus or train to using system examples in developing algebraic formulas for high school students to literature examples set on transit vehicles, there are plenty of ways to elevate the “it’s available to use” mindset to “it’s normal to use” mindset.

    I’ll add to that a suggestion I’ve mentioned before: create a different tone for different Orca cards. That way, it makes younger elementary school students feel special while ensures that parents aren’t using their kid’s free card.

    1. On the 62 and before that the 74 (30), I’ve seen several groups of elementary-school or daycare kids going on field trips.

      1. The 45 gets gaggles of preschoolers/daycare as well. Not on the sections that overlap with the 62, to be clear.

        Playing peekaboo with them was more fun than I remembered :)

      2. The 71 used to get (in the Before Times) a weekly crowd of about 40 elementary school kids going to volunteer at one of the food pantry places in the U District. They were great fun, as Ness mentioned in their comment as well.

        The summer schools near UW used to bus (usually slightly older… elementary/middle schoolers I think) groups on the 271 across the lake to Bellevue once or twice a week. This was a regular thing two years ago. They got on early enough and in large enough numbers that people depending on the 271 for their connections to work would be left behind at the UWMC stop each time, which I imagine caused some consternation among the riders left behind.

    2. Oh, I don’t know. I think students easily gravitate towards transit, just like they gravitate towards bikes, walking and hitching rides. You figure it out, even if you embarrass yourself once or twice. (I certainly did, back in the day). My guess is a kid can figure out how to tap an ORCA card and handle One Bus Away much faster than most adults, just like they can navigate Ticky-Tok, SnapChatter and the rest of it.

  7. Al S., I’m with you a hundred percent on transit and the school system enthusiastically giving themselves reason to be grateful to each other. It’s a natural partnership. Might also point out that schools have never thought twice about offering “Auto-Shop” and “Driver’s Ed”.

    From engineering to public-agency-friendly accounting, let alone civics, fact that voting age and legislative eligibility are both 18 could be terrific graduation present to both students and the transit system itself. Way I’d look at their ORCA cards is as employer-paid passes for transit interns.

    Possibly also providing dozens of STB commenters with a cure for the bureaucratic performance and attitude that makes all our comments so fatalistic and unhappy. Mandatory school attendance= endless “fresh blood.” And cost-wise, let’s put it this way: our average paid consultant bills us for their a lot more than their ORCA card.

    But best of all, driver’s education instructors might do well to have their trainees occasionally, from a safe distance, follow a trolleybus, to give them the feel for smooth curve-handling, acceleration, braking, and instinctively knowing where their vehicle is at any given time.

    “Slow for special-work” should be standard “Drivers’ Ed” maneuver. Saves on gas and makes your brakes last longer, too. Which will also bring ATU Local 587 into the partnership. What’s in it for them is a lot fewer grievances and termination hearings.

    Mark Dublin

  8. And Tom, there’s a lot wrong with anything in a public school system that results in future employment, promotion, and academic advantages owing to a student’s parents income. Want to donate? Fine. Just so, as widespread as possible, all your kids’ schoolmates get a share of your gift.

    Firsthand experience with hereditary government by “titled” congenital idiots left our Founders with a distaste both frills and the people who wore them for a uniform. Even in France, doubt Benjamin Franklin’s wardrobe included many of them. Let’s respect the viewpoint.

    Mark Dublin

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