The group Friends of Transit will file a Seattle-only property-tax initiative by the end of this week, to raise money for bus operations within the city, transit activist Ben Schiendelman announced today — just hours after Tuesday night election returns showed a King County measure failing.
The proposal would raise $25 million a year for six years, at a tax rate of $22 per $100,000 of property value.
Supporters were working on this option well before Tuesday’s defeat of a county-wide transportation funding measure. “I’m a software tester. I plan for things to fail,” said Schiendelman, who was among the first writers for Seattle Transit Blog, and also campaigned against the Highway 99 tunnel.
King County Metro Transit officials have said they would reduce service hours 16 percent, including elimination of 72 routes, without new revenues to compensate for sales-tax losses in the recession.
“Seattle will grind to a halt if we don’t act fast to save buses,” said Schiendelman. “We will not rest until we have reversed these cuts and begun making the investments we need to provide Seattle with the transit system it deserves.”
He said the campaign is aiming for the November ballot. A total 20,638 valid signatures are required, from registered Seattle voters, according to a city clerk’s factsheet.
County Executive Dow Constantine didn’t confer with Friends of Seattle, a county spokesman said. Constantine replied this afternoon:
We welcome and encourage efforts that would protect bus service and avoid major disruption to our riders. Unfortunately, in the near term, we will still need to transmit major service cuts if Proposition 1 fails.
While King County Metro works as a regional system that moves people across jurisdictions throughout the county, reflecting the truly regional nature of our economy, the notion of cities buying bus service is not a new idea. We already have a number of cities and businesses contracting for service.
Opponents of Proposition 1 this spring argued that Metro needs to cut its relatively high operating costs, and seek more money from users, before asking for more tax.
Tuesday’s returns showed 55 percent voting against the county’s proposal, which sought to increase sales tax 0.1 percent, and enact a $60 car-tab fee. The funds would have been split 60 percent for transit and 40 percent for county and city roads. Schiendelman said he suspects that most Seattle voters supported it, and that a property tax would be a better method, since it increases progressively with land value.
The Friends of Transit announcement comes with endorsements by Joe Szilagyi, a board member of the new West Seattle Transportation Coalition, and from Renee Staton, a Northgate-area resident and pedestrian-safety advocate.
“The pending Metro bus cuts will cause my neighborhood to lose one of our core routes, the Route 73. It also means that my 16-year-old son will be making an hour trek home from high school because the bus he rides will no longer go to our neighborhood,” said a statement by Staton. “Convenient, regular, safe bus service is essential to a healthy economy and a healthy community.”
Friends of Transit said revenues would be collected by the City of Seattle and used to purchase service from King County Metro. Seattle already buys about 45,000 hours of bus service from Metro using revenues generated by the Bridging the Gap property-tax levy, approved by voters in 2006, the group said.
Seattle is steadily relying more on transit, especially at the University of Washington and downtown, where only about one-third of commuters drive alone.
Schiendelman said as long ago as October, he was having conversations with other transit supporters about funding strategies in case the county’s efforts lost.