As a comprehensive transportation funding proposal falters in the state house—Republicans in the senate are demanding spending cuts in exchange for any increase in spending on road maintenance, highway expansion, and local transit funding options—freshman state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46) has proposed legislation that would give local transportation districts (like Seattle) the right to impose a $40 vehicle license fee without a public vote (currently, the city is maxed out at $20), and would give King County the authority to charge a 1.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax. "Metro is facing a 17 percent cut. That's like closing down a whole lane of I-90 24 hours a day and another lane 12 hours a day."
The tax would have to be split 60-40 between transit and city, town, and county-owned roads, which, if anything, are deteriorating even faster than King County Metro's bus system, which faces 17 percent cuts next year if the state doesn't come up with a funding solution.
It's an ambitious proposal, though hardly a surprising one from the former executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition and the former spokeswoman for Pierce Transit.
But in a legislature where funding priorities are currently split between education and transportation, does it have a chance? We asked Farrell that very question.
As I'm sure you know, Metro is facing a 17 percent cut, and the way I've been talking about it is that that's like closing down a whole lane of I-90 24 hours a day and another lane 12 hours a day. We wouldn't dream of doing something like that. There's also a real county road maintenance crisis that's been happening for years, because state and federal investments in local roads have eroded.
[As far as the politics], what I would say is that there's no doubt that the politics are really hard. It's always been hard on the senate side and now [with the senate dominated by Republicans], it's only harder.
But I do think there are King County Republicans whose [constituents] are going to lose transit service. King County Metro is part of the transportation network, and we wouldn't dream of taking away that kind of capacity on I-90. But that's what's coming down the road if we don't take action.
Farrell's bill is out of the house rules committee and queued up for a floor vote; she wrote a piece for the Stranger laying out her arguments in more detail here.