This Washington

Metro Funding In Doubt As Special Session Looms

King County Metro's funding remains in limbo going into a special session that will be focused on the general budget, not transportation.

By Erica C. Barnett April 30, 2013


Look at these sad people! Image via King County Metro.

King County Metro general manager Kevin Desmond reprised his gloomy presentation on Metro's future if the state doesn't give the agency a new local funding option for the city council yesterday, going into great detail about what routes will be cut and what the impact will be on Metro riders. 

If the state legislature, which goes into special session in two weeks, doesn't give King County new local funding options, riders will face service cuts of up to 17 percent. Revenue-raising options include  an increase in the car tab fees, which the King County Council could enact on its own, or a motor vehicle excise tax, which would have to go before voters; proceeds from the MVET would be split 60-40 between transit and roads. 

Even the most modest options are looking less and less likely. "We're getting close to a point of departure," Desmond told the council grimly. 

Although the legislature did adopt a baseline state transportation budget, Desmond noted that it "does not incorporate any of the things that we have advocated for in order to resolve our structural funding gap." Those options are attached to an $8.4 billion revenue package proposed by Democratic house transportation committee chair Judy Clibborn.

A couple of factors bode poorly for Clibborn's proposal. First, legislators—particularly senate Republicans—have said they plan to focus primarily on the state budget before taking up secondary matters like the transportation package and poilcy bills. And second, senate Republicans have indicated they won't support a transportation revenue package that does not go before the voters. Funding for the Columbia River Crossing is another GOP dealbreaker; the house revenue package includes $450 million for the CRC.

The 65 routes Metro could have to eliminate and 86 routes it could have to cut include not just the lowest-performing routes (those with the lowest ridership and longest wait times), but routes that "any reasonable person would suggest are productive services," Desmond said, citing, among other examples, routes that could be reduced (among them popular routes like the 5, the 48, the 71, the 3, and the 4) as well as routes that could be eliminated entirely (among them: the 57, the 27, the 30, and several express routes).

Service cuts will have both direct and indirect consequences. Some people, of course, will see their routes eliminated entirely. Others will have longer commutes (because what was once a single-seat ride now requires a transfer) or face overcrowded conditions (as fewer buses have to serve the same number of riders).

Ultimately, those who can afford to do so will choose to drive instead—reducing Metro's revenues and creating a vicious cycle, all at a time when the region's transportation plans call for dramatic increases in ridership throughout the Metro system. "The danger there is when we step backwards, we have to rebuild and regain [riders'] trust and confidence," council member Tim Burgess said. 

"Your travel time may increase, your anxiety about your travel time may increase, and your access to work may decrease," Desmond said.

"Low-wage workers who are often working shifts that aren't aligned with [rush hours] who don't have an opportunity to buy a car ... [could] lose their job or have to move," council member Mike O'Brien said. 

Asked about the revenue package's prospects, senate minority leader (and former state house transportation chair) Ed Murray harumphed, "Ask Rodney Tom." Tom, one of two dissident Democrats who joined with senate Republicans this year to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, has said that he, like the Republicans, will not accept a revenue package that funds the Columbia River Crossing.

The special session starts May 13.

Filed under
Show Comments