- Ben Schiendelman, center, and Mike McGinn, right, shortly after Schiendelman filed an initiative to prevent bus cuts in Seattle
Flanked by former mayor Mike McGinn, who was as jovial and bearded as ever, a group called Friends of Transit walked into the Seattle City Clerk's office and calmly filed an initiative that has long been discussed: A Seattle-only property tax measure to save Seattle-only bus service. Yes, it's a bit of a middle finger to the suburbs, if only because nothing much can be done for them now, but it's more a middle finger to the state legislature, which has been deliberately bleeding us of transit funding in order to force some votes for highway dollars. Yes! That is a real thing that is happening, right here in this century. Friends of Transit, led by longtime transit activist Ben Schiendelman, has a simple plan: Prevent the brutal cuts Metro is planning for Seattle-area bus routes by buying that service back with property tax revenue. Which is exactly what their initiative would do.
And there's already proof that a Seattle-only measure could pass: "We don't have to go out and do a poll," said McGinn. "We just did one." He means Prop 1, which passed handily in Seattle, failing only out in the rest of King County.
As for getting it onto the ballot? They're not certain exactly what their signature-gathering operation will look like, but Schiendelman says he's already been "overwhelmed" with requests to help gather signatures for the measure.
The measure would raise property taxes by 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $66 a year for a $300,000 home. It would be a six-year levy, and the money it raised would go entirely to save bus routes that spend at least 80 percent of their annual revenue hours inside Seattle's city limits. Any money that's left over—since you can't perfectly predict taxes based on home values nor Metro's exact service cuts—would go toward purchasing additional Metro bus service hours for Seattle routes. A provision of the initiative also requires the city to enter into an agreement with Metro to ensure that no funds from this levy end up supplanting funding that Metro would be providing anyway.
Some of the chatter around Prop 1's failure was talk of its regressive taxes—an obnoxiously irrelevant argument, since the elimination of hundreds of thousands of bus service hours will hit the poor much harder than the proposition's car-tab fees, which also had a low-income rebate and helped fund a low-income bus fare. But Schiendelman says this plan improves on that count, too. "We've chosen the most progressive option we have available," he told reporters. Instead of Prop 1's flat car-tab fees and sales tax increase, this would be "a property tax shared by homeowners, passed on to renters, and paid by the companies that own the skyscrapers around us, too." Olympia seems determined to deny us the right to do anything else.
"Seattle voters can control their own destiny on transit," urged a smiling McGinn. It's a warning the wussy state legislature should take to heart.