With the King County Council's four Republicans poised to join Democrat Rod Dembowski in supporting Demobowski's controversial proposal to put off cuts to King County Metro, Democratic King County Executive Dow Constantine faces a tough decision: Veto the measure, or let it go forward?
The Dembowski legislation, which the council's other four Democrats oppose, would implement only the first round of cuts—the "Priority 1" cuts to the least-used routes, which are scheduled for September 2014—and direct Metro to find more savings by dipping into its reserves, raising fares a sixth time since 2008, and finding "efficiencies" through an audit.
The Democrats say Dembowski's plan only delays the inevitable because, they argue (repeating a key argument from last April's failed Proposition 1 Metro funding measure) Metro has already done all it can to cut costs and find efficiencies (so far, they've reduced expenses by nearly $800 million between 2009 and 2013, and anticipate ongoing savings of $148 million a year), and because the council has already adopted five fare increases since 2008.
"The difference" between the Dembowski plan and the Democrats' proposal, Democratic county council member Dave Upthegrove says, "is whether we balance the budget or not. The executive and four of the five Democrats on the council want to balance the budget and then build service back where we can, whereas the Republicans are saying, 'Let's not balance it in the out years and hope we can come up with some money'" in the future."Executive Constantine is not going to support any proposal that doesn’t ensure that Metro’s expenses are in line with its revenues. We can’t run the tenth-largest transit agency in the country on a month-to-month basis."
"I think it fuels the anti-transit narrative: 'Just tighten your belt, the money will always be there.' I think it makes it harder for [Mayor Ed Murray's] Seattle measure," which would pay for service within Seattle city limits and create a matching fund for suburban cities that want to preserve their service, "to pass. It says there's going to be magic money."
Upthegrove says that if only the September 2014 cuts were implemented, the county would be $360 million in the hole within five years.
Constantine's top transportation adviser, Chris Arkills, declined to say whether the county executive would veto Dembowski's bill if it passes on Monday, but acknowledged that "that's one of the options before us." He added, perhaps tellingly, that "Executive Constantine is not going to support any proposal that doesn’t ensure that Metro’s expenses are in line with its revenues. We have a biennial budget. We can’t run the tenth-largest transit agency in the country on a month-to-month basis."
Late this afternoon, four of the council's Democrats—Upthegrove, Larry Gossett, Larry Phillips, and Joe McDermott—proposed compromise legislation that would implement all of the planned cuts, with the last set of cuts going through as planned in September 2015, but would stipulate that "If the executive transmits to the council on or before November 30, 2014, a letter that states that the executive has identified additional revenues or savings sufficient to fully fund public transit routes and service at the levels based upon the February 2015 service changes," then only the first two sets of cuts, in September 2014 and February 2015, would go into effect.
In a statement, McDermott said, "If the proposal that has moved forward is adopted, we won’t have enough money to operate Metro service into the next biennium. I know my colleagues want to make the financially prudent decision. This proposal strives to strike a balance between operating a fiscally sustainable system and being responsive to any additional new revenues generated.""I think it fuels the anti-transit narrative: 'Just tighten your belt, the money will always be there.' I think it makes it harder for [Mayor Ed Murray's] Seattle measure to pass. It says there's going to be magic money."
Meanwhile—and file this one under Isn't It Weird That—Republican county council member Kathy Lambert, a member of the party of "fiscal responsibility," proposed (and passed, with support from Dembowski and the council's other three Republicans) an amendment that would preserve a half-dozen Dial-a-Ride Transit (DART) routes in unincorporated King County that were deemed, under Metro's service guidelines (which consider factors like ridership, cost, economic justice, and social equity), to be "low-performing."
The DART service is operated by Hopelink, a nonprofit that serves seniors and people with disabilities. Lambert is on Hopelink's board of directors.
John Resha, a member of the council's central staff, told council members that to single out specific DART lines for reinstatement (at a cost, he noted, of about $2.4 million), "would be inconsistent" with Metro's strategic plan.
"I think it violates our service guidelines," Upthegrove says. "One of my fears going into this was that if you can get five votes on the council, you can do things like restore routes" that are among Metro's least productive, he says.
The council will vote on Dembowski's Metro proposal, along with Constantine's (and, potentially, the Democrats' compromise), on Monday afternoon.