Bus riders and socialists confront King County Council over car tab fee proposal

King County Metro stands to lose more than 600,000 service hours (17 percent of total service) during 2012 and 2013 if a proposed car tab fee increase does not pass. - File photo
King County Metro stands to lose more than 600,000 service hours (17 percent of total service) during 2012 and 2013 if a proposed car tab fee increase does not pass.
— image credit: File photo

The debate surrounding higher car tab fees and slashed bus service has reached a boiling point in King County as some residents demand social justice over mass transit.

The final public hearing on the proposed temporary car tab increase to help alleviate King County Metro bus funding issues is being held at 6 p.m. July 21 at the Burien City Council Chambers, 400 S.W. 152nd St., Burien.

The increasingly discussed issue led to a near four-hour meeting on July 12, attended by hundreds at the King County Council chambers in Seattle.

A diverse range of citizens were present, from those that are visually and hearing impaired, to union representatives to students to senior citizens. Many of them viewed the issue in terms of “social justice,” saying mass transit is needed by those most socially disadvantaged in Seattle and King County — and that any cuts to the levels of service would put those people and groups at risk.

Outside of the call of social justice, calls to tax the rich to help fund transit were made repeatedly by members of socialist parties and other citizens.

Steve Leigh, a member of the International Socialist Organization, came fully armed, wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of former president George H.W. Bush on the front, and the words “Tax the Rich” in red across the shirt. Saying that two of the richest individuals in the world live in Seattle and/or King County, he asked why they weren’t being taxed to help fund transit. His thoughts were echoed by Linda Averill, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party. Averill made some waves in 2003, when she was able to garner 11,000 votes in a bid for Seattle City Council position 5. During the July 12 meeting, she chastised the King County Council for only having a two ideas on how to solve Metro’s problems, and for not considering an “option C.” She described what she envisioned as option C:

“No discussion has been made yet of Option C, which is go where the money is, tax corporate profits and the wealthy,” she said. “I brought a couple for people. This is a Seattle Times article talking about the top 20 CEOs in the region. (Starbucks CEO) Howard Schultz is right at the top making $21 million, profits are at record highs. I won’t bore you with the details.”

Council member Larry Phillips, who chairs the county Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee, shared some opening thoughts before the 280-plus citizens gave their thoughts and comments to the county council members present July 12.

“We have been, for three years, addressing a very serious issue facing our Metro transit system,” he said. “It is a budget crisis. We have done everything we can to stave off any service cuts, and frankly, we’ve come to the end of the road on that. We are at a critical juncture.”

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen was given the first opportunity to comment, and commented on the unprecedented turnout.

“I’ve never seen a crowd like this, in my experience, as a member of the Seattle City Council,” he said.

Federal Way connection

One of the few South King County residents in attendance was David Coriado, a Federal Way resident and student at the University of Washington.

“On behalf of the people who live in Federal Way, and who are students at UW, I rely on mass transit,” Coriado said. “It’s really important to me. I really urge (council member Pete von Reichbauer) and the rest of the King County Council to support this fee.”

Von Reichbauer shared his thoughts on the Seattle meeting in a telephone interview with The Mirror.

“It reflected the Seattle sentiment very clearly,” he said. “It will be interesting to hear what people on the south end have to say.”

Saying he’s trying to listen to as many people as possible, von Reichbauer’s focus with the issues surrounding Metro still remain on making sure the system can survive going forward.

“My concern is the long-term financial stability of the system,” von Reichbauer said. “We’ll continue the dialogue. We’ll see what happens.”

During the last meeting, a number of citizens chastised those King County Council members not present, including von Reichbauer. That’s something von Reichbauer thinks happened due to a lack of communication about the intent of these three meetings.

“I think there was some confusion,” he said. “We designed three different committee meetings, one for the Eastside, one for Seattle, and one for the south end.”

Von Reichbauer did say that anyone interested in attending will probably want to show up in Burien early because a similar turnout to the July 12 meeting is expected.

Next steps

As it stands, according to King County Metro officials and King County Executive Dow Constantine, the failure of the county council to pass the “Congestion Reduction Charge” will mean a severe decrease in service levels. According to the Metro website, if the charge is not passed, more than 600,000 service hours (17 percent of total service) will be lost during 2012 and 2013.

For the officially non-partisan King County Council, it appears the issue will be one that divides along party lines, with Democratic members of the council saying they’ll approve the fee. Republican members are on the record indicating they’ll be saying “nay” when the fee is put to the council’s vote, which is expected to happen July 25.

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