King County Activates Plan B

County moves to draft legislation to save Metro on its own.
This post is 3 in the series: Metro Matters

King County is laying the groundwork to solve its own transit funding problems in the event that the legislature fails to come up with a “balanced” transportation package anytime soon. Under its Plan B option (which we argued here should really be Plan A), the county could avoid cataclysmic cuts in King County Metro bus service by creating a Transportation Benefit District and raising its own revenue.

Here are more details from the county press release, and a good writeup from Publicola on some of the politics involved. County executive Dow Constantine briefly lays out the situation in this video:

This is good news, and here’s why. The state legislature is taking a serious look at an absolutely terrible transportation package that uses a regressive gas tax increase to fund $8 billion of new roads while providing virtually nothing for transit, pededestrians, or bikes and little on road repair. (See our chart on just how lopsided those priorities are.) It’s an environmental and social justice nightmare.

In order to get King County to go along with it, they’ve been holding us hostage. The transportation package would give the county the authority to ask voters to levy a new motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) to save Metro bus service and maintain roads. That’s been the front-runner solution to raise about $75 million a year that the county needs to prevent our bus service from crumbling in the worst way. So the deal the state is offering us is this: we vote for a huge, regressive transportation package that mostly goes to the rest of the state and in return we get permission to pay for our own buses.

However, King County’s Plan B changes the game. If the county no longer needs the state’s permission to ask voters to save Metro and fund road maintenance (most likely through a combination of sales tax increase and a flat vehicle license fee), then voters in the most populous part of the state no longer have to hold their nose and support the wholly unpalatable transportation deal that’s on the table right now. It buys time to work out a much more equitable transportation spending plan, one with truly balanced priorities that people across the state can support.

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Comments

  1. Weezy says:

    Jennifer: Let’s just blame the patriarchy on your ignorance, mmkay? Now, for the financial facts of life that you never were taught: all car tab taxes are regressive, a progressive tax is a payroll tax on companies with more than 30 employees (let Boeing and Microsoft pay for transit), and Dow’s “Plan B” would be sticking it to the lower middle class that already is paying too much in regressive transit taxes (we have the most regressive tax structure in the country at this point, mostly because of the excessive and unnecessary taxing policies of King County and Sound Transit.

    Now, Jennifer, is there anything about this you don’t understand? You really need to catch a clue . . ..

    • Eric de Place says:

      Couple things, Weezy.

      First, keep the insults in check. We keep our comment threads respectful.

      Second, you’re off base on at least some of the substance. You may note, for example, that Jennifer did not claim that King County’s proposal is progressive. In fact, a sales tax is regressive (though KC’s proposal is small, at 0.2%) and a flat car tab fee is somewhat regressive. (We’ve explored car tabs a bit here: http://daily.sightline.org/2011/09/28/are-vehicle-license-fees-regressive/) But neither of those is as regressive as a large increase in the gas tax, which is what the state is proposing.

      Add to that this important feature: the state’s plan would fund roads almost exclusively, while King County’s would pay for transit + roads. In short, if you consider the revenue and spending together, there’s no question that the state’s package is more regressive than King County’s.

      I have no idea what your point is about a payroll tax. Who’s proposing that?

      • Weezy says:

        Eric:

        1. A larger percentage of motor vehicle fuel taxes are paid by business entities than sales taxes. Motor vehicle taxes are more progressive in that sense. Also, anyone who is commuting long distances in a vehicle to work is gainfully employed and can afford the proportionately greater tax burden that comes from motor vehicle fuel taxes. Moreover, if some company or individual is paying a lot of motor vehicle fuel taxes then they are by definition using the roads a lot, and are contributing directly to their upkeep and maintenance. In contrast, buying clothes, shoes for kids, home repair items, personal hygene supplies, kitchen utensils, appliances and paying for repairs to all of the above can not be avoided by the poor, the disabled, the elderly on fixed incomes or young families of modest means. Moreover, the heavy sales taxes imposed on those groups for such purchases bear no relation whatsoever to transit usage. Likewise car tab taxes bear no relation to transit usage and they disproportionately impact the poor by taking from them a relatively large proportion of what little discretionary income they have available to them. For those reasons – and many others – motor vehicle fuel taxes are much better revenue raisers for transportation and transit than sales taxes or car tab taxes. There’s no real argument that motor vehicle fuel taxes are more regressive than either sales taxes or fuel taxes.

        2. You asked who raised the issue of payroll taxes. That’s a progressive tax. It is used widely for transit elsewhere in the country. It has not been discussed by the democrats because they are much more comfortable hiking regressive taxes in the name of transit. That’s a flaw in their approach. What do you think, Eric — why aren’t you advocating for progressive taxes for transit, a revenue source the peers utilize?

        I’m struck by what appears to be ignorance here at “Sightline”, especially in terms of best practices for financing transit. Do any of you have any idea how it’s done outside Washington state?

      • Weezy says:

        Is Sightline a blog that is sponsored by corporations and rich individuals to advocate for regressive tax increases? Corporations are the primary beneficiaries of transit; the Downtown Seattle Association pushes car tab taxes and sales taxes for transit every chance it gets as well. Is Sightline a similar advocacy organization? Serious question. That would explain Jennifer’s wild claim that motor vehicle fuel taxes are more regressive than Dow’s “Plan B” package.

  2. Weezy says:

    Eric: This blog says it is for a sustainable northwest. Why are you not advocating for payroll taxes on rich corporations to pay for the roads they use, and transit that benefits them. Heck, even motor vehicle fuel taxes promote sustainability by making it more expensive to buy gas. Instead, you’ve got Jennifer touting a lousy proposal from Dow Constantine whose got a monomaniacal fixation on hiking sales taxes and car tab taxes, neither of which promotes sustainability. Moreover, taking at face value Constantine’s and Phillips’ claims that they need more tax revenue at this juncture just makes you look ill-informed. There already is far too much taxing for transit here. Again — I’m struck by what appears to be willful ignorance on the part of the writers here in this area, which suggests this is an outlet that pushes needless regressive taxing for transit to benefit rich corporations (just like the D.S.A.). Is there a big overlap of financial backers between the D.S.A. and Sightline?

  3. Weezy says:

    Eric: Looks like I was correct — Sightline is backed by the same corporate interests behind the D.S.A.

    Here’s a Seattle Times story where the D.S.A. also is pushing high sales taxes and car tab taxes, and rejecting the notion of reasonable payroll taxes:

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022357368_salestaxkcmetrobusxml.html

  4. Jennifer Langston says:

    To clarify, we have clearly argued that an MVET tax increase is preferable to a sales tax increase or flat car fee precisely because it is more progressive:

    “The MVET option is the most progressive way to raise Metro revenue, since people who can afford to drive spendy new cars would pay more than people nursing beaters, and the revenue stream would also grow with inflation. Sales tax and flat vehicle license fees are unfairly regressive, and they burden the people in our society who can least afford it. But so does an 11.5-cent gas tax increase that forces low-income drivers to pay for massive highway expansions they don’t want and may never use.”

    The problem is that the Legislature appears unwilling to give King County the authority to ask voters to approve an MVET tax on a timetable that will allow Metro to avoid catastrophic bus cuts. Plus, by insisting that the MVET authority stay embedded in a larger transportation package (in an attempt to buy votes for it in King County), the Legislature is opening the county up to unacceptable risk. If a larger transportation package is challenged and defeated at the ballot box, the county would also lose its revenue source.

    By proceeding on its own, at least King County can ask voters to decide the Metro revenue question on its own merits. Clearly (from Metro’s perspective) the best outcome would be the Legislature giving King County the authority to ask voters for an MVET tax increase in 2014 and unhooking it from a complicated transportation package that may not pass either.

    • Weezy says:

      You acknowledge car tab taxes target people. The are regressive no matter what you call them, or whether they are based on vehicle value or not.

      You also uncritically parrot the overt tax pimps’ canards that service cuts would be horrible and that more tax revenue is needed, despite the facts that Metro ridership has declined in recent years and the bus and train services providers around here collect FAR more tax revenue than their peers.

      You also fail to try explaining why with the excessive extant taxing levels (again, in comparison to all peer regions) our overlapping transit services providers can’t provide good enough service.

      Finally, you fail to acknowledge that a MORE SUSTAINABLE state/local taxing structure would entail cutting back regressive taxing and doing what the peers all do: tax rich corporations and individuals more directly and heavily.

      Now, what do your failures and continued wrong-headed observations about state/local fiscal policies here suggest? You are a mouthpiece for ATU Local #587 and/or local democrat party organizations.

      Who butters your bread? He who pays the piper gets to call the tune, and your tune is WAY off-key.

  5. Weezy says:

    President Obama characterizes income inequality as a major threat:

    http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/04/21756918-obama-income-gap-threatens-our-way-of-life?lite

    Sightline urges additional sales taxes and car tab taxes, which are designed to hit those with less wealth disproportionately heavier. This blog wants to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.

    Sightline has all the earmarks of being the mouthpiece for public employee labor unions, local democrats, and businesses in the Seattle area. But hey, they also are “green”, so they must have peoples’ best interests in mind all the time, right?

    • Jeremy says:

      I believe that the tax-shy Washingtonians rejected the income tax, rejected the sugar tax, and so now less palatable options are considered, while the state splurges on newer, bigger, fatter roads so those ever ethical car drivers can pollute their way down to Oregon and back up again–way to dodge that oh so pesky sales tax, and never mind the obesity and cancer from all that productive car-sitting. Good thing they’ve got all that world-class healthcare to cover them! Meanwhile, it is amusing to see America thrashing about in the carbon coffin corner they’ve managed to waddle themselves into–oh, but the taxes! Oh, oh, oh!

      • Weezy says:

        “I believe that the tax-shy Washingtonians rejected the income tax”

        Here’s the story on that. Bill Gates Sr. was the mouthpiece for the “pro” side. It was a sure-fire loser proposal. He meant for it to lose. The right kind of income tax proposal would pass with flying colors. What Bill Sr. did was set it up wrong. It was just an initiative, which means the state legislature could have moved the level at which it kicked in downward as far as it wanted in two years. The right way to set up an income tax here is to put forward a constitutional amendment. That would mean it would not run afoul of the existing case law prohibiting income taxes, and the legislature could not move the kick-in level down after the measure passed. If the kick-in level were indexed for inflation it would always remain a high-earners tax. Moreover, the level at which it hit profitable corporations could be as low as the state legislature wanted.

        There are lots of other progressive taxes (such as payroll taxes, and the kids of real estate transfer taxes and fuel distributor taxes the MTA in NY benefits from). Problem is, the democrats around here just LOVE taxing lower middle class families the hardest. They’re sick f*cks.

  6. Benn says:

    I agree with the previous comment threads that the County’s “Plan B” proposal is any less regressive than a broader based gas tax.

    Why is it that the solution to transit in Seattle is always to default to the same tax models that have proven inadequate over the past 30 years for funding operations and maintenance? Things like car tabs and gas tax increases have proven successful in terms of delivering capital projects, but they have serious flaws on the O&M side over the long term because of things like inflation and their exposure to the political process.

    Why isn’t there any talk of Metro looking at things like demand-based flexible pricing during rush hour, which would be a much more progressive funding model than the current system. Why also isn’t there any discussion of providing more cost effective alternatives like taxi vouchers, intercity van pools, or subcontracting point to point service with private carriers (which of course will give the Unions fits, but is Metro a transit agency first or not?).

    • Weezy says:

      “Why is it that the solution to transit in Seattle is always to default to the same tax models that have proven inadequate over the past 30 years for funding operations and maintenance?”

      The default for democrats is excessive sales taxes and car tab taxes. Motor vehicle fuel taxes aren’t used for transit.

      The answer to the question of why that default is that democrats here get off on taxing the lower middle class more heavily than any other group of politicians in the country. It is a groupthink; a form of mass anti-social personality disorder, brought about by leaders who lack empathy (Chopp, Madsen, Sims).

      Learn some social sciences. When the wrong personality types gain control they get enabled by lots of otherwise-normal people. That is what has happened here, due to a lack of constructive criticism about the way the democrats were headed.

      Seriously — try to find anyplace else in the country with such a nasty state/local taxing regime. It’s an empty set.

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