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.