THIS week, King County Metro Transit finally revised the list of service reductions it would make if voters turned down Proposition 1 on Tuesday’s ballot.
The Seattle Times continues to recommend voters reject Proposition 1 because the transit agency still has much more to do to right an unsustainable cost structure and management practices. Transit is vital to the region’s economy and quality of life — King County can and should do better.
County officials should have released the revised list a month earlier — that’s when they learned that revenue projections had improved to offset part of the 600,000 hours in service cuts they said would be necessary if voters didn’t pony up new taxes. Instead, county officials and proponents of the ballot measure knowingly circulated a list of cuts that was outdated.
Only under pressure did officials do the work to revise the list, representing 550,000 hours in service cuts, and to release it.
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While the change is not large, the carelessness of this episode illustrates Metro’s longstanding transparency and efficiency problems.
Some of these were highlighted by the Municipal League of King County in a scathing report six years ago. Last year, the League acknowledged some improvements but underscored lingering concerns regarding sustainability. Even though the League has endorsed Proposition 1, it has done so “reluctantly.”
Under King County Executive Dow Constantine, many positive changes have been implemented. But challenges remain from years of lax management of operations and labor contracts. Among transit agencies, Metro driver costs are the fifth highest in the nation. Additionally, drivers continue not to contribute to their health-care premiums — few of the voters asked to impose a $40 increase on their car tabs and a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase have that luxury.
Another specter looming over Tuesday’s ballot measure is Metro’s expired contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents drivers. A contract settled before Proposition 1 was put on the ballot would have given voters a better idea of the county’s seriousness in reining in labor costs. Meanwhile, the union’s local and international organizations each have contributed $20,000 to the pro campaign that, if successful, no doubt would take the pressure off.
Voters should reject Proposition 1. That would provide an impetus for King County officials to further remedy the problems highlighted by the Municipal League and others, and to resolve its drivers union contract.
More money might be warranted for transit, but county officials still have more work to earn voters’ confidence before they ask again.
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).