King County Councilmember Larry Phillips' is calling on Olympia for legislation to help stabilize King County services and prevent transit cuts.
"In tough economic times, people rely even more heavily on public transit as a means to save money getting to and from work and other activities, but the latest forecasts show that service cuts will soon be unavoidable unless we find effective solutions," he said in a statement. "We need legislation from Olympia that will provide Metro with stability during economic downturns and the means to keep service growing with demand."
New forecasts project that Metro will face a $100 million funding gap in 2010, which could require cutting between 800,000 to 1,000,000 annual service hours, or about 20 percent of Metro's service.
Meanwhile, transit demand has never been higher and many commuter routes operate in overcrowded conditions that sometimes force full buses to bypass passengers at bus stops. Metro ridership has grown 20 percent in the last three years.
"Up until now, we have been able to keep service rolling by finding operating efficiencies, raising fares, and dipping into reserves, but with those options nearly exhausted, our backs are up against the wall and service cuts may be the only option left," he said. "It's critical that we press that point with the public and Olympia because cutting service is the wrong answer for King County families, businesses, and the environment."
Phillips supports a request by Metro for state legislation that would allow King County to enact a 1 percent motor vehicle excise tax for transit funding. The County's proposed legislation has not yet been introduced.
The possibility of a legislative solution to King County's general fund crisis is faring better thanks to SB 5960 and HB 2249 introduced by Senator Debbie Regala and Representative Ross Hunter that would provide more flexible revenue options for King County. Phillips led the County Council's effort to balance the 2009 budget which faced an unprecedented $93 million funding shortfall.
Phillips argues that because Washington counties are overly reliant on property taxes, which are capped at 1 percent annual growth, county services will continue to erode unless the state provides more flexibility and stability for counties' general funds.