Editorial Staff, March 17, 2013, Seattle Times
HERE is the message a coalition of Seattle-area citizens and civic leaders are sending to Olympia: Roads are deteriorating. Public transit is operating in the red. Let us solve this problem ourselves by raising local revenue.
The Washington Legislature should grant this wish, but only if those options are placed on the ballot for voter approval.
Without this safeguard, city and county officials too easily could patch up budget holes by creating a fee frenzy.
The Legislature is considering several ideas to raise money for transportation, including a statewide gas-tax increase.
On the local side, at least 44 mayors and elected officials such as King County Executive Dow Constantine also are requesting authority to impose a $20 increase in vehicle fees and a 1.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax that adds up to another $50 to $80 per year for every car.
The last time the Legislature gave the Metropolitan King County Council approval to pursue a local option in 2011, council members bypassed voters and conceived a two-year, $20 “congestion reduction” charge on motorists to offset Metro Transit’s budget shortfall. (A few months later, fee-fatigued voters rejected Seattle’s efforts to raise car-tab fees by an additional $60.)
Metro leaders now warn of an ongoing $75 million shortfall due to diminished sales taxes. If King County’s “temporary” $20 fee expires next year and lawmakers don’t raise more revenue for state transportation needs, Metro bus service could be reduced by 17 percent in fall 2014.
A strong case can be made for a local-option tax to support public transit. Public transit is critical to our economy and a lifeline for students and many commuters. It takes cars off the streets and saves roads from wear.
The Legislature should give local jurisdictions the option to ask voters for new revenue to make these investments.
Over the past two years, Metro officials insist they’ve cut costs, negotiated cost-saving labor agreements, and raised rider fares four times.
If they want more money, they should continue those reforms and make a clear case to voters.