THE defeat of King County Proposition 1 carries an unequivocal message: King County Metro Transit has work to do before it goes back to voters for more revenue.
The contours of that necessary work have been suggested for years in reports by the Municipal League of King County — and now underscored by voters. No more delays. No more half-measures.
Proposition 1’s $130 million-a-year increased revenue from car tabs and sales tax offered many reasons to vote no. It made the region’s regressive tax structure more so. It buttered road-maintenance money across municipalities in the county, without clear goals.
Voters were unmoved by the county’s scare tactics: If voters didn’t pass Proposition 1, the campaign warned, 600,000 hours would be cut, sending riders back to their cars. Nevermind that the figure was quietly revised downward even during the campaign, due to higher-than-expected sales-tax revenue. Further downward revisions are likely if the King County economy continues to spring back from the Great Recession.
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Now, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the Metropolitan King County Council need to back away from the rhetoric and sharpen their pencils. Metro’s costs are among the highest in the nation, at $136 per bus an hour. That unbalanced cost structure was the biggest reason to vote no.
More money for transit might well be warranted, but only when the transit agency’s cost structure is righted.
Cutting routes should be the last resort, especially those serving colleges and night- shift workers. Before going through a route-cutting exercise, operational costs need to be re-evaluated anew. Is the capital budget for bus replacements warranted? Can administrative expenses be squeezed? With a low-income fare set to take effect soon, is another general rate increase needed?
The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents drivers, needs to be a full partner in this re-evaluation. Negotiations over a new contract have broken down. Before heading to binding arbitration with King County, the union needs to listen to the voters’ message and resume negotiations.
Once Metro’s costs are brought into line, voters might be willing to hear another pitch for new revenue and enhanced service.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).