OLYMPIA Refuses to properly fund King County Metro, meaning we have to do it ourselves.
  • Alex Garland
  • OLYMPIA Refuses to properly fund King County Metro, so we have to do it ourselves.

The Seattle City Council, acting as the Transportation Benefit District Board, just sent Proposition 1 to save King County Metro from service cuts back to Seattle ballots this fall.

Prop. 1 failed across King County in April, but passed overwhelmingly within the city limits. Let's do it again! When this ballot measure lands in your mailbox, make damn sure you vote for it. The funding for Metro comes from a 0.1 percent sales tax hike plus a $60 vehicle license fee.

Everyone on the council voted for it, except for Tim Burgess, who wasn't there, and Mayor Ed Murray issued the fastest statement via e-mail I've ever seen "applauding" them. So, yay! Bus service is in high demand, it's better for the environment than zillions of cars, and the prospective cuts would have been devastating—especially for some of the city's most vulnerable workers who rely on late-night bus routes, for example.

Before that vote was taken, however, the council rejected an alternate tax proposal from Council Members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant.

Their package would have substituted the 0.1 percent sales tax hike, which hits everyone equally hard in an already regressive tax-heavy state, with more progressive measures: a modest employee head tax—0.8 cents per hour per person employed by local firms, to be paid by those companies, with exemptions for all small businesses already exempt from the state B&O taxes—and a 5 percent increase in the commercial parking tax.

The Sawant/Licata amendment to strip out the sales tax (and then replace it with the other taxes mentioned above) got shot down 6-2, with only Licata and Sawant voting in its favor. Sawant had challenged all of the council members to explain why, when they're always complaining about the lack of progressive taxing authority they get from Olympia, they'd vote against progressive taxes that they can enact, instead of a more regressive plan.

In response, Sally Clark and Jean Godden made some seriously half-brained, totally spurious claims, arguing that they would hurt small businesses and that the commercial parking tax is regressive because it falls on all people, regardless of income, who drive cars.

Licata, who usually cuts a demure figure, had to laugh at that. "I should point out that if we use this logic, that the admission tax or the nickel fee for using paper bags are likewise as regressive because they treat all people the same regardless of their income," he said, adding that he was "amused" by the argument.

"They all share one thing in common," Licata said. "They charge for an activity that is voluntary, unlike sales tax, which must be paid by everyone participating in our economy."

Unless you live in the woods, he clarified.

Alison Holcomb, who appears intent on challenging Sawant for her council seat next year from the right, claimed this morning in an interview with PubliCola that the employee head tax is "regressive." I've asked her to explain what the hell she means by that, but she hasn't responded. (Update: Holcomb sounds off in the comments section below.)

The Sawant/Licata plan is far more progressive than an across the board sales tax increase, full stop. But even though it was spurned by the rest of the council, other council members did seem to feel under pressure to justify their preference for the more regressive option. Some of them held out the future possibility of expanding Metro service with some of the taxes favored by Sawant.

"I’d love to work with Council Member Sawant on her concept of a millionaire tax," Tom Rasmussen said in explaining his vote against the amendment. Sawant chimed in that she'd be "delighted" to work with him on it. (He added that he's not sure the city has the legal authority to impose one.)

Mike O'Brien pointed out that "simply not going backwards isn't enough" when it comes to mass transit. He described the parking and employee head taxes as "two robust funding alternatives that I think we’re going to need to go to." Rasmussen also said he's supportive of the employee head tax, but wants there to be greater consensus around it before he'll vote for it.

"I’ll be excited to work with council members [on those measures]," Sawant responded. "I would urge all the residents to hold your council members to what you’ve heard today...Let’s fight for something better."