Striking a defiant note this afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a countywide ballot measure to pas a $60 vehicle license fee and a sales tax increase of one-tenth of one percent, raising about $130 million a year countywide.
Citing the state legislature's ongoing "failure" to pass a transportation revenue package that would include a provision allowing the county to ask voters for a motor-vehicle excise tax (which would, because it's indexed to the value of a driver's vehicle, be less regressive than a flat license fee or sales tax), Constantine said, "We are out of time for a statewide bill that includes a local transportation solution. For five years now, we have lived under the threat of drastic cuts, bus cuts, at a time when we need more service, not less."
We reported on the details of the proposal earlier today.
The King County Council will need to approve the measure by the end of February in order to get it on the ballot by April 22 (without new revenue, cuts will kick in this June). Sixty percent of the proposal would go to transit, and 40 percent would go to county roads. Less than half, around $60 million, would be spent in Seattle.
Asked about that seeming discrepancy, city council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen—who had just spent several minutes extolling Seattle as the economic engine of Washington—said Metro is "a regional system ... and we want to make this work for everyone, including our suburban communities and our suburban routes. We all share in the benefits."
Even if the new fee and tax increase proposal passes, Metro fares will go up—to $2.75 for a one-zone two-hour ticket, and $3.25 for a two-zone pass. To help offset the extra cost burden for the very poorest, Constantine is also proposing a low-income fare of $1.50 for people making up to 200 percent of the poverty level, or about $23,000 for an individual.
Asked where the higher fare leaves low-income people making over $23,000, Constantine said, "To one extent or another, everyone who uses the bus would pay more, and the reason we're putting in the low-income fare proposal is for those who have no alternative, there would be the alternative to have the lower fare—to get that education, get to work, support their families, and move up the economic ladder."
"I believe this makes the bus system more affordable for people with low incomes even than it is today," Constantine said.
Editorializing here: "Affordable"? Metro has raised fares 80 percent in the last five years. This latest increase will represent a fare hike of nearly 100 percent. That's a lot to ask from transit-dependent people who, despite making more than $23,000 a year, are barely getting by in a city where the median rent for a one-bedroom is $1,438 a month.
Meanwhile, according to Transportation Choices Coalition's Rob Johnson, 90 percent of Metro riders have a car. So: Someone making $24,000 a year and driving a beat-up Chevelle will pay the same $60 annual fee as someone making $120,000 and driving a Jaguar. And all Metro riders pay sales taxes.
Metro needs new revenue to preserve basic service for the thousands of county residents who rely on buses to get them around. But it's disappointing, to say the least, that the only available option is more regressive taxes that weigh most heavily on those who can least afford to pay them.