City Hall

Mayor Murray Proposes $45 Million Plan to Prevent Seattle Bus Cuts

State fail. County fail. Now, it's the City's turn.

By Josh Feit May 13, 2014

As expected, Mayor Ed Murray rolled out a proposal today to prevent drastic cuts to Seattle bus service that are otherwise due to start hitting in September; voters countywide rejected a 0.1 percent sales tax and vehicle license fee last month—a desperate response itself to the state legislature's failure earlier this year to pass a transportation funding package. 

More than half of those cuts would be in Seattle where, in fact, voters actually approved the April 22 measure, Proposition 1, by 66.5 percent; conversely, though, suburban and rural voters in the rest of King County voted 66.5 percent against the measure, bringing the total vote to 54-45 against. (Even with a lower turnout, 36 percent in the county vs. 40 percent in Seattle last month, there are far more voters countywide than in Seattle.)

Murray's plan is a facsimile of Prop. 1's taxes: a $60 vehicle license fee (for $24 million a year) and a 0.1 percent sales tax (for $21 million a year). Prop 1 raised more money countywide, obviously—$130 million—with a 60/40 split between buses and roads. (Murray will send the plan to the City Council which has until August t to send the measure to the November ballot—which looks to be crowded.)

There's no roads funding in Mayor Murrray's Seattle version. Of the $45 million total, $40 million would prevent 90 percent of the pending Seattle bus cuts (100,000 of 110,000 daily rides that are on the chopping block); $2 million would pay for rebates on the VLF for low-income people; and the remaining $3 million would be available as matching funds for suburban cities that want to take advantage of King County Executive Dow Constantine's proposal, which he laid out yesterday, that allows local governments to buy bus service back from Metro on a deal by deal basis with the county.

(Footnote on the matching fund: The matching money is also availiable to other entities besides regional cities; private and/or non-profit employers, Sound Transit, or even King County can get a match from the $3 million account if they're restoring Metro hours that connect Seattle and suburban routes. Microsoft or Google couldn't get the money for their own private transit systems.) 

•The city's $3 million match and Constantine's fee-for-service offer reflects Murray and Constantine's commitment to the regional design of Metro's bus system—a point they both made repeatedly today at a press conference this morning to announce the plan. 

"We are not a fortress," Murray said. 

"Despite somewhat arbitrary boundaries," Constantine added, "we are a regional economy." 

•The other (defensive) theme at today's announcement—where a majority of five Seattle City Council members, five Seattle-area state legislators, and a big crew of interest groups and community leaders such as Estela Ortega from Central de la Raza, Toby Guevin from immigrants rights group OneAmerica (I guess Murray's OneAmerica go-to Pramila Jayapal wasn't available?), Dave Freiboth from the King County Labor Council, Toby Crittenden from the youth activist group Washington Bus, and Rob Johnson from Transportation Choices Coalition—was this: despite the regressive set of taxes, it would be more regressive to take bus service away from working people, preventing them from getting to their jobs. Murray aruged that is wasn't regeressive to “use a regressive tax to a progressive end.”

Calling transit "too vital a public service for us not to take action," Alison Eisenger, Executive Director of the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, said, "I want to note in particular that Mayor Murray's proposal would preserve night owl bus service, which is essential for people working swing shifts, and others, who would literally be left stranded without those late-night routes."

The $60 VLF would come on top of an existing $20 VLF (worth $6.8 million) that already goes to the city for road maintenance, ped safety, bike infrastructure, and transit corridor improvements. (There's also another existing $20 VLF—the original stop-gap transportation fix after the leigslature failed to fund Metro three years ago—at the county level, but it is sunsetting this year.) 

In addition to citing the nexus between a VLF and transit service, Murray also aid he didn't want to OD voters on property taxes nor run into the legal property tax limit ($3.60 per $1,000 of value). Murray noted that he was already sending a parks property tax to voters, that the Bridging the Gap property tax levy for roads, bike, ped, and some transit was coming back around next year, and most important, calling it "a moral" cause, he said he wants to pay for universal Pre-K with a property tax. Taking solace in the fact that Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved the sales tax and VLF in April, Murray reasoned that it made sense to preserve property taxes for other needs.  

•A third theme today was how this whole bus funding crisis was the fault of the Republican-controlled senate in Olympia. Constantine, in fact, started to blame the legislature before correcting himself—"excuse me, the senate actually." And after State Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle), who had been in on the negotiations in Olympia, accused GOP leadership of "utter failure," state Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) took the mike at today's press conference to say the solution will be in play this November when several GOP seats are up, including, he noted, a couple of eastside suburban Republican seats whose voters are supposdedly mad about diminishing transit funding. 

The problem with Pedersen's logic, though, is that the very voters he's counting on to elect a Democrat because they're supposedly mad about MIA transportation dollars, are the same voters who just three weeks ago voted against Prop. 1.

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