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King County has 'Plan B' for Metro funding if no statewide solution is found
From staff reports:
King County leaders have indicated they will develop necessary legislation to avoid drastic cuts to King County Metro service, if a balanced statewide transportation package, with local options for funding Metro transit and roads in the cities and unincorporated areas can't be created by lawmakers in Olympia.
If the county is forced to develop its own legislation, that legislation will be put before voters, according to a Nov. 21 press release.
"A statewide transportation package that is fair and balanced is still our first choice, but in the absence of action by the state, an imperfect local option becomes necessary so that voters can have the chance to save bus service and maintain roads," said King County Executive Dow Constantine in that same Nov. 21 press release.
In the event that no solution is forthcoming, the county has requested authority from the state to ask its voters to fund transit service and roads in cities and the unincorporated areas through an increase in the motor vehicle excise tax.
Tagged the "local option," it's believed that this particular taxation tool would "allow Metro to avoid devastating cuts to bus service," and also "provide funding for cities and the unincorporated areas of King County to preserve and maintain their roads and make related transportation improvements," according to the county.
As temporary funding measures begin to expire in the coming year, the county indicates it's critical for King County to obtain this "local option" and to seek voter approval in 2014.
According to the county, if this particular option is not forthcoming from Olympia, "existing state law does allow the Metropolitan King County Council to enact an ordinance creating a transportation benefit district with specific revenue authorities, including sales taxes and a flat annual vehicle fee."
King County Councilmember Larry Phillips said time is running out, and the region deserves the right to vote on whether to accept drastic transit cuts. Phillips also chairs the the council's Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee.
"Putting this decision in front of voters in time to save their transit system, with or without state legislative action, is the right thing to do," he said in a news release.
If the transportation benefit district option is exercised, the revenues generated would be distributed to Metro Transit for bus service, and to funding roads and transportation needs to cities and the unincorporated parts of King County.
One positive development toward solving the funding problem is a tentative agreement reached between the county and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587. The ATU represents Metro bus operators, mechanics and various other jobs associated with the transit agency. According to the county, the agreement could "preserve jobs and produce millions of dollars in savings for Metro Transit."
"Local 587 recognizes Metro is in the midst of an unprecedented funding crisis," said ATU president Paul Bechtel. "This is an agreement we feel we can take to our membership — one that reflects our shared desire to keep our operators on the job and buses on the road for our customers."
Constantine said the tentative agreement is a step in the right direction.
"This is a significant agreement that reflects a shared commitment for preserving bus service and the union's desire to be part of the solution," Constantine said. "This agreement was reached following five months of good-faith bargaining, and I appreciate the work of negotiators on both sides."
According to the county, the proposed agreement would save Metro between $8.4 million and $12.7 million over the life of the contract, or about 40,000 of the 600,000 hours of bus service that would have to be cut in the absence of stable funding.
This will be accomplished by a wage freeze in the first year of the contract, followed by a 2 percent wage increase in the second and third years of the contract. There's also the possibility of a 1.67 percent wage increase in the third year of the contract, contingent upon Metro's ability to avoid a deep service loss.
ATU is expected to vote on the agreement in December.
According to the county, Metro is facing "unprecedented" cuts in its 40-year history if that stable funding solution is not found. The cuts would roll back service to 1997 levels, "despite the fact the county has grown 22 percent with 360,000 more people."
Accordingly, the transit agency should be growing by 15 percent instead of shrinking. Metro saw its second-highest ever amount of average weekday rides last month, with 412,000 rides daily. Metro is also nearing its annual record for ridership of 119 million riders. That record was set in 2008.
The transit service estimates it needs approximately $75 million in additional funding to maintain current service levels.
Metro began a series of community meetings on Nov. 20 at the Federal Way Community Center. To learn more about the issue and upcoming meetings, visit www.kingcounty.gov/metro/future.