Real Change News – June 4, 2014

By House Speaker Frank Chopp

Our local bus transit system is a lifeline for our city and impacts our overall health as a community. Every day, people rely on it to get to work and go to school. Traffic congestion would be far worse without it.

Like all of you, I value the service and reliability that King County Metro Transit provides to the citizens of our great city and region. And I was disappointed by the recent failure of Proposition 1, a countywide ballot measure to support our transit system.

Bus riders have contributed their fair share to a balanced funding plan: Fares for riders have been raised four times over the last several years.

At a time when transit ridership is increasing among all populations including low-wage workers, the elderly, people with disabilities and minorities, we should not be slashing service. But with Metro facing an annual budget shortfall of $75 million, the transit agency plans to slash 16 percent of service, eliminating 72 routes and revising or reducing 84 other ones. Last year, the state House of Representatives approved a balanced transportation revenue package, which included local options for transit funding as requested by King County, City of Seattle and other local leaders. However, the Republican-dominated state Senate refused to act on this or any package, therefore forcing King County to rely on its existing authority. As a result,

Prop. 1 was put on the ballot this past April and met its fate. As we continue to pursue more progressive funding sources for the future, there are two near-term actions that would be in order:

The City of Seattle should take action

I appreciate Mayor Ed Murray’s recent proposal, which would increase the sales tax by 0.1 percent and enact a $60 car-tab fee, to fund local transit and prevent cuts to service in the wake of the failure of Prop. 1. Voters in

Seattle strongly supported Prop. 1, which clearly shows public support for action in our local communities. Without action by the City of Seattle, Metro will begin to implement the first round of bus service cuts this fall. These cuts would be devastating to our local neighborhoods and economy.

A more balanced approach to transit funding should be considered

Recently, Seattle City councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant introduced an amendment to the mayor’s plan that includes replacing a sales tax increase in part with an employer-based tax of up to $18 for each hourly employee. This idea could provide a more balanced approach to funding bus transit, which already relies too heavily on sales tax revenue. There is logic in this, since businesses throughout our city rely on bus transit for their employees to get to work and for customers to show up at their doors.

At the same time, such an approach could be a more progressive answer to transit funding. While I personally support every effort to minimize the impact on low-income populations, I agree that the most regressive outcome of this effort is a devastating loss of bus service.

Affordable access to transit is imperative to our long-term success. Whatever the final plan, we need to work together as a community to make sure the solution is as fair and progressive as possible. These services are vital to Seattle and its residents, and I urge all of you to contact your city councilmembers to encourage them to support funding for this important service.

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