Keep King County Moving

By King County Council Chair Larry Phillips

This Earth Day voters will finally have the opportunity to save Metro Transit service. For years, threats of impending Metro Transit cuts have worried commuters and transit riders who rely on buses to get to work, school, and other activities. The sales tax revenues that fund Metro Transit dropped dramatically during the Great Recession and still haven’t returned to the pre-recession levels needed to support current transit service levels. Until now we have kept the system running through efficiencies, fare increases, reserves, and temporary funding, but the reserves and temporary funding will run out this year. Without action by this spring, transit cuts of up to 17 percent will start taking effect this fall. On February 24th, I sponsored a resolution—passed unanimously by the King County Transportation Benefit District—that gives voters the option to stop transit cuts and fund Metro.

The measure before voters, Prop. 1, would raise approximately $72 million annually to preserve Metro transit service and $56 million to be distributed to cities and King County for road maintenance and other transportation projects. The city of Seattle, for example, will receive approximately $16 million annually that can go toward priority projects in the city’s transportation plans, including road maintenance, transit improvements, sidewalks, and bike paths.

The revenues will come from a $60 vehicle fee, replacing the expiring $20 congestion reduction charge, and a 0.1 percent sales tax increase, both of which would sunset after ten years. The monthly cost to the average household would be $11, less than the cost of parking one day in downtown Seattle.

I’ve heard concern about the regressive nature of these taxes. But it’s important to understand that if you vote no on Prop. 1, transit cuts will happen, and there’s no action more regressive than gutting our transit system. The people who will be hurt most are those with no other options—people working low wage jobs—often at odd hours, people with disabilities, students, and the elderly.

If we had more progressive tax options, we would take them, but the Washington state legislature gave us no other choice, except cutting transit service. King County has taken steps to help those most vulnerable by including a vehicle fee rebate for low income vehicle owners and by enacting a low income transit fare. If Prop. 1 passes, it would provide for a low income fare of $1.25, saving riders $54 to $72 per month.

If you’ve taken a look at the proposed transit cuts and how they impact Ballard, you know they’re horrendous. Routes that would be eliminated or reduced include 17X, 18X, 28, 28X, 29, 40, 44, 61 and 62. Parts of Ballard would lose all day service, and they are not alone. Communities all throughout King County will experience similar impacts.

This is not the transportation future we want for our communities, for our most vulnerable neighbors, for our economy and environment. We have the opportunity to reverse course and save our transit service. I hope you’ll join me on Earth Day in voting “YES” for Prop. 1 to keep King County moving.

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