PubliCola Isn't It Weird logo
Isn't it Weird That

One thing Fizz failed to mention about the Republican overture to the Democrats on the transportation package (which is going nowhere, by the way, because while the GOP proposal tweaks numbers, it doesn't tweak concepts) is this change: From 60/40 to 40/60.

Reversing the transit/roads split from 60/40 to 40/60 subtracts $25 million from Metro. 

Sens. Curtis King (R-14, Yakima) and Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), the co-sponsors of the bill, have transposed the transit/roads split in the language that authorizes King County to raise the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). The split used to be 60 percent for transit and 40 percent for roads, which would have put about $75 million toward bus service and $50 million toward county roads.

Reversing the split, and earmarking $50 million for transit instead, would fail to offset King County Metro's funding shortfall; Metro needs about $63 million to maintain its current level service. 

Sen. Rodney Tom, photo by Josh Feit

Isn't it weird that Sen. Tom, who lives in King County, would scale back Metro bus money?

Of course, since the Metro cuts will kick in in September—and since the legislature has been unable to pass a transportation package—King County has already decided to go it alone.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and the County Council (unanimously) placed a $60 Vehicle License Fee plus a 0.1 percent sales tax increase (to raise the same amount of money as the MVET would have) on a special April 22 ballot. Constantine and the Council went with a 60/40 transit/roads split to prevent a potential 17 percent cut to bus service. The sales tax and the VLF (as opposed to the MVET, which is based on the value of your car) are both regressive, but without state legislative action over the last year and half, they were the only options the county had. 

So, another bit of weirdness: Isn't it weird that the leadership of the senate's Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus—Microsoft suburbs moderates such as Tom—are trying to save face with a plan that will actually increase congestion (without the buses we run now, advocates say we could see another 30,000 cars on the road) while savaging bus service. It's not like Tom, who's up for reelection this year against a bona fide Democrat, former Kirkland mayor Joan McBride, can somehow now say he tried to save Metro, but the Democrats simply wouldn't go for it.

Numbers don't lie. Reversing the transit/roads split from 60/40 to 40/60 subtracts $25 million from Metro.Why would the Democrats go for that?

The new Sen. Tom proposal does add transit money, about $137 million. (Ironically, though, the MCC drummed up that extra money by taking it from the the direct distribution grant program—a program that local districts use to fund transit projects—halving that local fund and specifically saying King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, plus Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma, no longer have access to the money remaining in the grant fund.)

Meanwhile, the money the MCC transferred over to specific transit projects is already allocated, including new money for a park and ride grant program; perhaps they were anticipating more cars thanks to the lack of transit? The only money for Metro appears to be $15 million to fund transit mitigation during the construction of the waterfront deep-bore tunnel.

I have a message in to Sen.Tom, though his web page does detail the $1.1 billion in King County projects—520, I-90, 405—that the plan funds through 2023.