Green Party of Seattle Endorses King County Metro Transit Ballot Measure

In the February general membership meeting, the Green Party of Seattle voted to endorse the King County Metro Transit ballot measure which will be up for vote on April 22, 2014.  A Seattle Time article about this is here.

Below is a letter from Brent White, long-time Green Party member in support of endorsement:

Sister/fellow Green Party members,

I respectfully request your consideration of King County Proposition 1, which was placed on the April 22nd ballot this past Monday, and hope you will vote to endorse it.

Proposition 1 would prevent a 17% cut to Metro bus service.  At a time when ridership is at its historic highest, packed buses are the norm rather than the exception, and automobile emissions account for half of the region’s carbon footprint, we can’t afford to go backward and push thousands of people back into driving single-occupant vehicles.

Proposition 1 would also create a low-income fare program, which would roll back fares for people under 200% of the federal poverty level to just $1.25.  This program will be a boon for affordability for low-income residents who ride the bus even just occasionally.  It isn’t the first program of its kind in the country, but it will be the largest so far.  Passage of Proposition 1 will reverberate across the county as other large-market transit agencies take notice and look at duplicating the program.

The downside of Proposition 1 is the funding mechanisms.  The main funding mechanism is a 0.1% sales tax increase.  I loathe and detest the idea of funding anything from sales tax, but it was one of only two funding sources the county had at its disposal to save Metro service.  In this case, the math works out very heavily in favor of the poor.  Imagine a hypothetical taxpayer who makes just below the $23,000 that is the cut-off for qualifying for the low-income fare program in a one-person household.  Even if every dime that person spent was on something with sales tax, the hit from the sales tax increase would be no more than $23 per year.  But rent and food from the grocery store aren’t sales-taxed.  So, a typical person earning that level will be paying a much lower amount than $23.  Every time that person rides the bus, she/he will be saving at least $1.25 over the non-low-income adult fare, or $2.50 for the round trip.  A typical low-income earner will wipe out any additional sales tax expense after just one or two round trips on the bus.

The other funding mechanism is raising the county car tab from $20 to $60.  However, the council added in a $20 rebate for people earning less than 45% of the county median income.  The $20 car tab would actually go away if Proposition 1 fails, as the 2-year congestion reduction charge program is due to expire.  It would take a low-income earner 16 round trips on the bus to wipe out this extra expense.  Approximately 40% of those in this category do not own a car, and are assumedly using the bus much more often than that.  For the other 60%, they would turn a profit on Proposition 1 after about 17 round trips on the bus (not including all the money saved on gas).

For a low-income (or no-income) earner who has a monthly bus pass, the annual savings would be at least $540, or $500 if they have a car tab to pay.

Proposition 1 isn’t just about preserving the current level of bus service.  40% of the revenue would go to local transportation projects (i.e. not for highways).  Potholes are regressive, and hurt all modes of transportation.  Every jurisdiction has a backlog of transportation infrastructure maintenance that needs funding.  The City of Seattle could spend its share on filling potholes, sidewalks, bike paths, or whatever is in the city’s various master plans.

I know some want to hold out for a more progressive funding option.  None will emerge before Metro has to start enacting the cuts.  But if some do later, and they pass, the county council has the option of rolling back the sales tax rate and the car tab.

Just like any other ballot proposition sent to voters, this proposition is far from perfect.  But the good this proposition will do far outweighs the bad of increasing taxes on the middle and upper class.  I hope you will all vote Yes to endorse a Yes vote on King County Proposition 1.

Thanks for your consideration,
Brent White