"But," Murray said, "I will fight the use of property tax." The mayor opposes Initiative 118—also known as Metro-saving "Plan C"—because it would use a Seattle property tax hike to save Seattle-only bus service. That approach, he believes, would have bad consequences for other social-justice priorities in Seattle.
"I'm concerned that we’re using the property tax and unwittingly pitting universal pre-K against parks and transit," Murray said. "I don’t think we want to do that." He called universal pre-K the most important thing he can achieve as mayor, citing the high rates of poverty for local African-American and Latino children in Seattle.
He conceded that it would be theoretically possible to do all three—universal pre-K, parks, and transit—via property tax hikes in the very near term. "This year, technically, do we have capacity?" Murray asked. "Yes.” But, he continued, “In reality, we are quickly going to run out of levy capacity in the next few years if we do everything on the property tax.”
To buy back Seattle's Metro service, Murray is considering cuts to Seattle's Department of Transportation. He's also considering the same funding methods floated by Proposition 1, which failed across King County but was overwhelmingly supported by Seattle voters. Those methods included raising sales taxes and car tab fees.
As we've reported, Murray has told at least two state lawmakers not to support any initiative that would save Metro by using property taxes. That prompted one legislator, State Senator Adam Kline, to recently withdraw his endorsement for "Plan C," and Murray said he saw nothing wrong with lobbying local politicians for his preferred bus-saving alternatives. He said if he'd had more time (he's been busy interviewing prospective police chiefs), he would have called more of them.
But, Murray continued, it's disingenuous to question his transit bona fides, as some have been doing during this debate. "If people want to go and replay the 2013 campaign and say Ed’s anti-transit and he wants to pave the city, then go ahead," Murray said. We asked him whether the role of former Mayor Mike McGinn in the campaign for Plan C plays any part in Murray's hostility towards the initiative. Murray said it doesn't. "If Mike McGinn didn’t exist, I would still be saying that," Murray said. But, he also complained that during the mayoral transition period McGinn didn't meet with him, violating a longstanding tradition, and said that normally new ex-mayors don't work so publicly against the interests of a sitting mayor.
Murray's rap against McGinn during last year's mayoral race was that McGinn couldn't play nice with others and refused to collaborate. So why isn't Murray collaborating with the backers of Plan C? "We are being collaborative," Murray said. He is currently working with King County, Transportation Choices, FUSE Washington, and "a half-dozen other organizations" that he said he couldn't recall off the top of his head. Their plan just isn't ready yet.
He cited his recent success in getting a minimum wage agreement (after a few decision deadline extensions) as proof that if given some time, he can deliver. And he pointed out that the coming Metro service cuts, while horrifying, don't begin until September, so there's time. "I'm working on a plan, Murray said. "And I’m sorry if folks believe I should pop a plan out. It’s easy to pop a plan on the ballot... If people believe I should have popped out the morning after the election with a fully-cooked plan, I disagree.”
That said, Murray added: "I'm totally willing to be pounded if people want to re-fight the 2013 campaign."
And what, exactly, does Mayor Murray know about Keep Seattle Moving, the ballot initiative that was popped out right after the election?
"I only know them to be a single person who has never written a positive thing about me," Murray said, referring to the initiative's filer, Ben Schiendelman. "I've gotten a lot of advice that there will be no positive outcome if I reach out to that individual...I don't remember when Ben Schiendelman became the czar of transit advocates in Seattle."
Meanwhile, Schiendelman's Keep Seattle Moving announced new endorsements today from the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Transit Riders Union. "We need progressive action immediately," said the union's assistant secretary, Beau Morton. "We've waited for the state, we've tried at the county, and the city can't afford to wait any longer and lose the transit service that we need now."
Murray, however, bristled at the idea that he's been part of a series of failures at the state and county level that led to this current mess. “Transportation—that’s my first love in government," he said. "Unlike the people who are proposing this, I’ve actually gotten funding for transit." He thinks it's a false choice to say that Seattle can either go it alone now or wait months for the state legislature to—maybe—help save Metro in 2015. "I'm in both camps," he said. "Moving this year for revenue, and continuing to fight in Olympia for a package that will give us more revenue, including for our streets and sidewalks.”
Sometime in the coming weeks—the mayor wouldn't say when—he'll unveil his own plan to save Metro. (Call it Plan E, for "Ed doesn't like Plan C.") Until its details become more clear, this much is certain: It will not rely on revenue from property taxes.