Election 2014

The Next Cutting-Edge Issue? Buses

Should Seattle go it alone?

By Josh Feit October 1, 2014

I've got an article in the October issue of the magazine that digs into Prop. 1—the Seattle-only $60 vehicle license fee plus 0.1 percent sales tax increase for $45 million per year in bus funding—as a means of exploring a much larger question than bus money.

The larger question my editor and I were after: What are the political implications if Seattle decides to go it alone? 

(Clearly wary of that question, mayor Ed Murray has gone to great lengths to describe Prop. 1 differently, characterizing it as a regional measure.)

Since the article hit, the dynamics of the implications have changed slightly because Prop. 1 doesn't appear to be addressing as dire a need. New sales tax revenue projections, changes in workers' comp policy, plus possible finagling with Metro's financial reserves (helpful Seattle Transit Blog primer here) allowed the King County Council to vote on Monday night to put off 169,000 hours of planned countywide bus cuts that were cued up for February 2015. Instead, the council plans to assess the full 249,000 hours in cuts that were slated for all of 2015 (including February's 169,000 hours) as part of their upcoming budget debates. (One hundred fifty-one thousand hours of bus service, including six routes in Seattle, have already been cut because a countywide Metro funding measure failed in April.)

Contemplating more service rather than cuts makes the breakaway move even more potent for Seattle.  

What that means for the Seattle-only measure is this: Rather than being about preventing massive cuts to Seattle's bus hours—63 percent of the countywide Metro cuts originally had Seattle's name on them, now down to 60 percent—the measure could now involve expanding Seattle bus service. And that possibility, I think, makes the conclusion to my Met piece even more timely. Contemplating more service rather than cuts, makes the breakaway move even more potent for Seattle.  

If Seattle covers the heart of Metro’s bus service, Fitzgibbon says, “this liberates us to advocate for other priorities” like Sound Transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure. “Our leverage is increased if we’re not begging to preserve what we have.” In other words, any transportation plans now proposed by Republicans will have to make King County voters happy—otherwise new taxes won’t pass statewide. 

What’s good for Seattle, evidently, is good for the state. Seattle led on gay rights (recognizing gay marriage in 2004) and pot (relegating pot busts to its lowest priority in 2003)—both embraced statewide in 2012 when voters legalized gay marriage and pot sales. Next cutting edge issue? 

Buses, apparently.



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