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"We're teeing up the ball and seeing who can step up to the challenge," said King County Executive Dow Constantine this afternoon, following an announcement of a program to encourage cities (or groups of cities) to purchase service from King County Metro and prevent cuts to their bus routes. "If Seattle or another city wants to lead the way, that's great."

Constantine said the program is intended as "a bridge to keep some buses on the road until we can get sustainable revenue authority from the legislature...Doing nothing while we wait for Olympia remains intolerable."

The program creates new, streamlined standards for contracts between cities and Metro, including requiring cities to cover all the costs of bus service instead of having the county offset some of them, which it typically has done. Like all the other plans on the table, this program won't prevent the first round of Metro service cuts coming down the pike in September. Contracts with cities would have to be approved by the county council.

"We clearly have not done enough to to inform the public," Constantine said about Metro's overall efficiency, citing its cost per passenger mile of 99 cents, just one cent above the national average. And he blasted opponents of Proposition 1 for taking information out of context, including a 2008 report on Metro's costs by the King County Municipal League. The league put out a statement today reaffirming its reasons for endorsing Prop. 1 and hitting back at its critics. At the same time, Constantine announced a new peer review and audit of Metro.

Could this new program lead to the "Balkanization"—to use Mayor Ed Murray's watchword from last week—of Metro's regional transit service? "I think that's a very legitimate concern," Constantine said, but added that the only alternative is for all of Metro's planned cuts to go into effect. In other words, some Balkanization of Metro is our only option. "I cannot ask cities to accept cuts they are willing locally to prevent," he said.

It looks like Seattle's going to be up first to bat, but will it be with a rehash of Proposition 1? Mayor Murray just announced a press event tomorrow morning where, according to Council Member Tom Rasmussen, he'll outline a proposal for Seattle voters that's "very similar to Proposition 1"—using car tabs and a sales tax increase to buy back Metro service for the city. That matches up with Murray's draft plan, which The Stranger obtained and described earlier today.

Constantine will be present with Murray at the press event tomorrow. But the county is totally "agnostic" when it comes to Seattle's revenue source, he told me. And Rasumussen said while he likes the mayor's plan, he's not opposed to a more progressive measure that relies on a property tax raise.