August 18, 2011
The argument for $20 car tabs
Republicans are up in arms over the recent actions of the King County Council (so what else is new?), but this time it's different. Many of us feel betrayed because the recent legislation passed, which raise car tabs by $20, did so only because of the key votes from two of our own; Kathy Lambert and Jane Hague. It was especially wounding to some because Lambert and Hague (and "Democrat" Julia Patterson) had assured them that they would not vote for a tax increase, instead putting it on the ballot for the people to decide. And perhaps that's what they should have done but calling them liars, as my friend Tim Eyman did last week, is the lazy way out and doesn't take into account the often difficult choices our elected officials must fact, especially when those elected officials have been in the ideological minority since who knows when.
I spent more than two hours listening to and asking questions of both Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert last night. At the onset of the evening I counted myself firmly in camp with the likes of Toby Nixon, Todd Woosley and others who were quite upset over the vote. But having known Lambert and Hague for many years I was more than happy to listen to their defense and hoped that there was some logical explanation. And I was not disappointed. While I'm not sure I would have ended up voting the way they did, after listening to their explanation I respect their decision and remain a strong supporter of both of them. As Kathy mentioned, we're a family and families aren't always going to agree but as long as they're honest and respectful of each other a good relationship can continue.
So what was their explanation? Well, as Kathy aptly pointed out, it was a bit of a Hobson's Choice, a "take it or leave it non-choice". Again, that's what comes from being in the perpetual minority in this County. You can either work with the liberal majority and gain some concessions or you can take your ball and go home, except that you can't take your ball because it belongs to them.
Our story begins a year and a half ago. Dow Constantine had recently taken office and was beginning to realize what a mess Ron Sims had made of county government (near criminal, according to Lambert). To his credit, Constantine began to clean things up, even reaching across the aisle for advice from Lambert and other "Republicans". One of the biggest messes, of course, was King County's transit system. And so began the process of reform. The "Republican" members of the council; Kathy Lambert, Jane Hague, Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer, reached out to the State Auditor's Office who then came up with a list of 32 reforms. To date, 31 of those reforms are complete or in process. The key to achieving such a victory came at the expense of the $20 car tab fee hike. Again, it was a bit of a non-choice. Of course those of us who use common sense think that money saving reforms should be implemented regardless of what sort of concessions one may get from the "other side" but, unfortunately, as often happens, some politicians aren't content in just doing the right thing for the right thing's sake and get into horse trading. When that happens we can cut off our noses to spite our faces or we can swallow our lumps and live to fight another day, knowing that the war is ongoing and achieving small victories in battles we may have otherwise lost.
And those victories are worth celebrating. Already, King County has raised fares so that recovery is up from 18% to 30%. This might not seem like a lot but compared to other transit systems in the nation it is above average. King County has now eliminated the ride free zone in Downtown Seattle, which was costing taxpayers $2.2 million in lost fares, $100,000 in cleaning costs (those of you who have ever ridden a downtown bus will know intimately what happens when you allow some folks to ride around on a bus for free all day), and an additional, unspecified amount in lost fares due to fare evasion (the ride free zone created a system where a rider did not have to pay his fare until leaving the bus on an outbound route, making it very easy to skip out on paying). Additionally, 3% of routes, most serving the exurbs and are often empty, have been contracted out to the private sector and will soon be using smaller coaches and "Dial-a-Ride" service. The county is working to improve route efficiency in other ways as well, sending buses to parts of the county that need them instead of continuing to focus on Seattle. The Transit Union, to their credit, has been surprisingly generous in giving up their cost of living raises, which has saved the county $23 million. These and other cost saving measures in the process of being implemented will help to close the $148 million dollar budget shortfall. The $20 car tab fee will bring in only a small portion of that, $25 million.
If Lambert and Hague hadn't voted for this measure it would have gone to the vote of the people and it would have failed. The county would have cut service by 17%, most of it on the Eastside, and would have implemented very few of the cost saving reforms outlined in the auditor's report. Even if you never ride the bus it's clear that everyone will benefit at least somewhat from the maintenance of service, especially when tolling begins on 520 (which they now say will happen in October). Yes, it's a liberal argument and one I'm not a fan of but it does have some truth to it; more people on buses mean fewer people in cars causing traffic jams on 520.
A few other things to note. Each household with one of more vehicles registered in King County will receive $24 in transit vouchers. Yea, it's not a lot, especially since it's only per household and not per car, but I think most of us probably take the bus at least once or twice a year, be it to a Mariner's game or someplace else where parking costs are prohibitive.
And for those of you who still feel you should have received the opportunity to vote on this, you're in luck. Included in the bill is a mandate that it goes to a vote in two years. At least then, if it's defeated (let's hope), the cost saving reforms will have already been implemented. If you do want to work to put an initiative on next February's ballot to repeal this bill, keep in mind, if it passes you'll also be repealing the reforms currently in progress.
You may not agree with the votes that Lambert and Hague took. You may have voted to cut bus service by 17% and not to bargain with the "Democrats" and there are certainly good arguments to be made for that position, God knows meeting Democrats halfway more often than not resembles ¬ĺ of the way, but I hope after hearing the arguments that Lambert and Hague gave for their votes you'll at least understand them, realize they had good reasons and refrain from calling them liars and ordering up their heads on a platter next time you go out to dinner. Politics is often compared to making sausage. It's an imperfect process and a thankless job so I want to thank Lambert and Hague. In general, they have voted to save the taxpayers money and to limit the reach of government. Have they gotten it wrong from time to time? No doubt, they'd probably even agree with me on that. After all, no one's a soothsayer. But I believe they have always voted for not only what they thought was right but also what they thought was Right.
You can read Lambert's op-ed explaining her decision here
Cross posted at The Political Bistro.
Posted by MarkGriswold at August 18, 2011
11:41 AM | Email This
Excellent post. Lambert and Hague made the right choice but the problem is their prior strong statements backing a public vote. Hopefully, it won't cause the Eastside to replace Hague with another Democrat. Voters need to recognize political courage.
2. A very informative and fair assesment.
3. Did they get enough "good will " to end the West Seattle Foot Ferry?
If all of those reforms saved all this money and helped keep the system afloat, that should be reason enough to implement them without additional fees. If they cut 17% of service, fine. Cut the routes that are seldom used anyway and the effect on traffic congestion is minimal.
@4...Good comment Palouse. At least some of some of SPs readers and commenters are not Snowed by the Politicians.
I also, disagree...It should have been placed on the ballot for the people to decide. And Yes, it is perfectly correct to call Lambert, Hague and Julia Patterson Liars! Naah...They gave you a load of goods as to why they had to vote for the tax increase. Part of the excuse was that if they didn't vote for a tax increase and left it up to the people to decide against the tax increase then, no needed spending reforms would take place. That excuse in itself is just, another Big Lie. What a Laugh! Of course, without the tax increase, spending reforms would be Forced to take place and on a greater scale than, they would be had not the tax increase occurred. Yes, they threaten to cut bus service by 17% so, let the Private Sector pull in the slack. This is an American Capital System, isn't it.
Yeah, keep feeding the Beast so it can continue to Grow and Devourer. Naah...They Lied to the people about not voting for a tax increase and they Lied to you as to why it was necessary for them to vote for a tax increase. Nuff said.
6. Daniel, if you think we're living in an American Capitalist System then I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. While all you and Palouse say would be nice in a perfect world, adults have to make difficult choices, especially when those adults have to live under the thumb of a liberal (childish) majority. Yea, it would be nice if we could force spending reforms just buy cutting off the spigot but can you tell me when that last happened? Fact is, County government would have started slashing service to the most needed areas to "punish" us insolent voters for not stepping in line. As for privatizing all or even part of the public transit system, yea, that would be nice but, unfortunately, the private sector is forbidden by law from engaging in the public transit business in Washington State. So unless you're prepared to take up arms over a $20 car tab tax (and, hey, the colonists did it over less a couple hundred years ago so you have precedent, although you'd better be prepared to face the consequences of your actions) then be prepared to live with the results of living in the current Republic. My guess is, if you ever managed to get elected and were forced to work with other people instead of just spouting idealist mantra, you'd be singing a different tune. BTW, wild guess, are you a Ron Paul disciple?
7. Excellent write up Mark.
Joe Metro...You got it Wrong, the Private Sector is NOT forbidden by law from engaging in the public transit business in Washington State or any other State. What a Joke! This is still a Free Capitalist Country. In fact, there are laws that state that Government can't compete with the Private Sector where the Private Sector is providing the service in the transportation of people. You've heard of Greyhound Bus, haven't you? Perhaps, taxicabs? Also, Government is not only allowing the Private Sector to provide transportation serving the exurbs, it is willing to pay to have that service provided by the Private Sector. Yes, Government wants to be the only one providing the service of the movement of people, that's for sure but, it doesn't make it right for the choices a Free people should have. Unfortunately, Government is slowly taking over everything and at great costs to the Liberty and Substance of the People.
Do you understand the value of what has been said? Of course not...You're a Liberal.
I concur with Warren. For me, this was not a question of whether or not this was a "good deal". It's a question of trust. These councilmembers made unequivocally public statements saying that they WOULD NOT vote for this without a vote of the people. In my presence at least, they never qualified it with "unless we can negotiate a better deal". As the Seattle Times editorial board wrote today, "Politicians should be careful when saying what they 'firmly believe.' Absent some emergency, they should do as they firmly say."
I'm happy they were finally able to get Dow and the Seattle representatives on the council to agree to these reforms. But these reforms are all things that should have been done a long time ago anyway, and are not nearly enough to put Metro on a sustainable financial footing. All the discussion is about this $20 car tab fee being "bridge financing" until they can convince the legislature to tax us in some OTHER way to close the gap. They're not talking about further cost-saving measures; they're talking about MORE AND DIFFERENT new taxes. Instead, they should be talking about significant increases in fares, with subsidies focused only on those who need it (such as subsidized bus passes).
We should stop piling more taxes on the backs of the poor and needy in our community so that we can continue providing cheap bus rides for doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and senior government employees to get to their high-paying jobs in downtown Seattle. Those who ride the bus as a convenience at the expense of taxpayers already save hundreds of dollars a month on the cost of fuel, parking, vehicle maintenance, insurance, and, soon, tolls, and shouldnít be subsidized further. Itís time we stopped providing taxpayer-funded bus fare subsidies to people who can afford to pay the full cost of the service they receive and who would still be saving money while paying the full cost.
The explanation I wanted to hear, and I figured it would be something like this, since Lambert is my councilperson and has long been known for wanting efficiencies even though democrats have been far more interested in just wasting taxpayer money and couldn't care less.
Yes, it's imperfect. And someone ought to swat Dow Constantine on the bee-hind for blackmailing the rest of us into PAYING Metro simply to make efficiencies they should have made LONG AGO, period. SHAME ON DOW CONSTANTINE AND METRO FOR THAT! Everyone here would respect the taxpayers more than that and would have done better on that issue than he did, had any one of us been in charge. There's no excuse for Metro to not make those adjustments, if they think they are to deserve the public's trust.
He screwed all taxpayers over on the West Seattle Ferry and has never apologized for it, preferring to use all of us as his personal political doormat to please the special interests who pour money into his political coffers and who couldn't care less about efficiency.
And seriously, why are car tabs tax dollars not going for roads--you know, the method of transportation favored by most commuters?? It's not right that the anti-car democrats continually steal from motorists to fund their little-used waste-of-money mass transit projects that seem to be in place mainly to make Dow Constantine's special interest campaign-funders happy.
11. PS: How about that Ron Sims--"failing up", as the saying goes. Goody for Americans--he ran HUD for Pres. Obama and we wouldn't want to even think how and on what scale he screwed THAT up! Thank goodness he left that post, but his judgment is still clouded, having recently said he wants to help the pres. get re-elected b/c "clearly President Obama is the right president". I guess so--in the same way that King County Elections ran clean elections in 2004, with "an accuracy rate any bank would envy."
Very, very astute. Thank you. We must stand together to defend transit, defend a voice of moderation in Jane Hague versus a left-wing, Gregocrat lawyer who will give the Council the ability to pass any and ALL taxes they want w/o voter approval.
Time for some sober thought.
Very well done post, but I'm not quite convinced.
So Metro gets their $20 tab tax in exchange for implementing efficiency measures. What's to prevent them from deliberately creating other inefficiencies, and then repeating the demand for revenue?
As for traffic, state & local transportation depts. have innumerable ways to increase congestion. They'll never really relieve congestion, because it's too effective a lever for them to raise revenue. ST has been the master of that. All they have to do is say 'congestion' and they get people who would otherwise scream to accept yet another tax.
14. Good points, travis. Here's an idea---this time they taxed motorists to pay for buses. How about taxing busriders to pay for roads...
15. Hague and Lambert are worse than liars - they are traitors. I hope they both lose their seats. Idiots like these two are why the electorate has so little faith in the GOP anymore.
16. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog