Hey, Seattle: Republicans are itching to screw you. And unless enough of you vote yes on Proposition 1—your ballot is being mailed this week—they will screw you.
They've engineered a multiyear strategy to starve mass transit in Washington State, running an initiative to nix taxes that paid for transit (car-tab fees based on the value of vehicles) and then blocking legislation that lets counties easily restore that transit funding themselves. Their goal: stop buses from running.
What the hell is their damage?
For one thing, Republicans are ideologically allergic to anything that isn't powered by old dinosaur bones. Even more, these right-wingers mostly come from rural parts of the state, and Democrats tend to live in cities, so gutting transit in cities is a good way of fucking over Democrats. But as we emerge from the recession, cutting transit would kneecap our transportation system and stunt economic recovery in cities—the state's biggest economic engines.
The cuts have gone deep the last few years, specifically in two of the state's more densely populated counties: Snohomish County was recently forced to cut 35 percent of its bus service, and Pierce County was forced to slash 43 percent of its bus service. King County has narrowly avoided these problems so far with a patchwork of stopgap funding.
But we are next.
Through no fault of its own, King County Metro will soon be short $75 million a year and face brutal cuts in bus service by the end of 2014 (even though King County currently sends more money to the rest of the state than it gets in return). In the process, Metro will also have to scotch transit service for many disabled people.
We cannot let these cuts happen.
But it gets even worse: We're having this election in goddamn April, when nobody expects a ballot to arrive in the mail. Since youngs, poors, Democrats, and people of color tend not to vote in off-year and special elections like this one, conservative voters tend to get their way. And if that happens on April 22, bus service in King County will be slashed, poor people and young people will be hurt, and—we read this somewhere, swear to God—it will be legal to serve toddler-liver foie gras in local restaurants.
The only solution? Grab that ballot before April 22 and vote yes on Prop 1. Here's why:
Losing This Much Bus Service Would Be Devastating
Do you ever ride the 26, 28, or 30 from Ballard, Fremont, or North Seattle to downtown? Well, you can kiss those bus lines good-bye if we don't pass Prop 1. The 21, 22, 37, and 57 for West Seattleites? Totally gone. The 66 and 67 from Northgate to UW to downtown? Buh-bye. In fact, Metro will entirely delete 74 bus routes and reduce service to more than 100 others if this doesn't pass. Some of the changes will be small, but even those will affect quality of life—many popular routes would stop running at least an hour earlier every night, making it difficult or impossible to bus home from a night out or a late shift.
All together, the cuts add up to 600,000 fewer service hours a year, affecting 80 percent of bus riders—and fully 100 percent of road users, since an estimated 30,000 more cars will head back onto the already totally jammed roadways. Sorry 'bout that carbon, Earth!
Disabled people would be particularly harmed. Federal law requires that everywhere the county operates buses, it must also provide transit for disabled people (Metro uses those Access vans you see driving around). By slashing bus funding and service, we also eliminate service for disabled people—who use the Access vans to go to doctor's appointments and basic errands—in those same areas and service hours where buses are cut. Unacceptable.
Prop 1 Is Our Best Solution
Prop 1 would raise sales taxes by 0.1 percent and require vehicle owners to pay a $60 annual fee for car tabs, which is $20 more than what we pay now. (Low-income car-owners would get a $20 rebate.) Sixty percent of the revenue would go to save Metro service long-term, while the other 40 percent would go to cities and the county for road maintenance, since roadwork was also impacted by the recession (and what do you think buses drive on?).
This isn't a perfect solution, we admit.
We've said it a thousand times, and we'll say it again: Regressive taxes that fall harder on the poor than the rich suck. They're evil. And this proposition's sales tax and flat car-tab fees are just the kind of regressive shit we're totally against. Except: Cutting that bus service will hurt vulnerable populations much more than the tax increase. Old, young, disabled, and lower-income people are the most impacted by transit cuts, which would leave many stranded at home and cut off from job opportunities.
We also have no other choice. King County has begged Olympia for the right to tax ourselves more fairly, via a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) on the value of people's vehicles—so we could tax a millionaire's sports car more than a beat-up old Toyota Corolla. But Republicans won't budge, and the Democrats don't have the wherewithal to steamroll them. A Tim Eyman initiative in 1999 slashed our statewide MVET, and, when the court struck down that initiative, the legislature killed the MVET anyway. Faced with this situation in Olympia, the King County Council hastily voted to put Prop 1 on the April ballot as a last resort for saving bus service.
Cities Need a Functional Mass Transit System to Thrive
For a city to really be a city, you need to be able to sleep, work, and spend money in any part of it—and travel from place to place. If you can't get around, you essentially live in silos. But getting around is only going to grow more difficult.
The population of our region (defined by King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties) is forecast to rise by 32 percent by 2040 (an additional 1.2 million people), according to the Puget Sound Regional Council. We can't build more roads in Seattle, the epicenter of this growth. We have to build more transit to reduce congestion. And if we don't—especially if we lose the transit we already have—roads will be more clogged and people won't be able to get around. This is terrible for an economy that relies on consumers shopping and employees getting to their jobs.
A well-connected city serves everyone: drivers, business owners, and shoppers alike—even folks who never step on a bus.
The Opposition Is Lying
The SECB invited opponents of Prop 1 to our endorsement meeting—we even loaded the bong and laid out cupcakes for them!!—but they didn't show. We e-mailed them at their official address (TruthInTaxation@aol.com) but never heard back. So we did some bong hits, munched on the cupcakes, fired up our laptops to do some research, and figured out that these "truth in taxation" nutjobs are full of shit. In their voters guide statement, they claim Prop 1 increases car-tab fees by 1,500 percent. It's actually a 50 percent increase (from the $40 we pay now to $60). We can do that math even though we're stoned. The critics then claim Metro suffers from "excessive operating costs." Also crap. Not only has Metro cut expenses (by about $130 million annually, according to county council chair Larry Phillips), its cost-cutting efforts convinced the state legislature in 2011 to allow King County to run a temporary two-year tax to save Metro. But now that temporary patch has run out. Folks also shouldn't be fooled by the Seattle Times, which ran an article on March 19 that presented Eastside Transportation Association as a powerful opposition force. They're actually a fringe pro-highway group, while the backers of Prop 1 are credible and multitudinous. Practically every elected official in King County and every major political organization has endorsed Prop 1. We endorse it, too. Vote yes!
The Stranger Election Control Board is Bethany Jean Clement, Paul Constant, Christopher Frizzelle, Jen Graves, Ansel Herz, Dominic Holden, Tim Keck, Anna Minard, Eli Sanders, Dan Savage, and George Takei.