February 5, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 6

Community & Editorial

Local officials can make progress to keep transit service with a progressive transportation agenda

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At a transportation “listening tour” last October, King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged that Metro carries 400,000 people a day and keeps tens of thousands of cars off traffic-choked roads. Given this, King County’s plan to eliminate 17 percent of Metro bus service is unconscionable.

The overwhelming sentiment of those who attended the legislature’s listening tour was anger. People lined up at microphones to testify about how service cuts would make it impossible for them to get to jobs, grocery stores, medical appointments, school and more.  

On Jan. 28, at a rally sponsored by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 587, riders and transit workers expressed outrage at impending and current cuts. Bus drivers spoke about not even having time to run to the bathroom, thanks to cuts in schedules that eliminate rest breaks. Riders suffer from late buses, greater distances between stops and drivers who are grumpy from overwork and stress. But the good news is that both transit workers and riders talked about the urgent need to build a movement with a labor-community alliance as the foundation.

Overall, the legislature’s proposals for transportation funding are regressive and anti-labor. They include more regressive taxes, provisions to lower prevailing wages and attempts to scuttle environmental standards. A theme struck by some at the rally, especially from transit workers in Shop Floor 587 — a rank-and-file caucus of ATU 587 — was that pressure needs to be put on elected officials for permanent progressive solutions to the transportation funding crisis.

To build awareness for this, the Shop Floor 587 caucus is planning a Valentine’s Day picket at Fifth and Jackson at 7 a.m. Transit workers in the caucus aren’t sparing the county any criticism either. The Plan B that Constantine has crafted, a $130-million transportation package, includes a similar mix of regressive taxes, anti-labor provisions and fare hikes. The proposal to raise fares 25 cents again in 2015 is especially outrageous. The introduction of a proposed low-income fare of $1.50 should not be used as a trade-off for hiking fares on a public that has seen rates rise 80 percent since 2009.

Caucus members are asking how county officials can support $8.7 billion in tax breaks for Boeing, while asking working-class taxpayers to suck up more regressive taxes. Why aren’t companies that are making record profits being asked to pony up money? County politicians need to look to the 1 Percent for new funds. The money is there. But it will take labor and community solidarity to force elected politicians to tax the big businesses that fund their political war chests.

Here are a few of the steps the officials could take to close Metro’s budget gap, until progressive state funding shakes loose:

• County Executive Constantine, who is chair of Sound Transit (ST), and Mayor Ed Murray, who sits on the ST board, could delay pricey rail/streetcar studies and expansions and redirect monies to save bus service. For example, the city wasted $3 million on a streetcar study to Ballard. Meanwhile, ST squandered more than $130 million of limited transit dollars on the streetcar expansion. ST is also planning more expansions — even though the streetcar is far more expensive to operate than bus service. Why is ST prioritizing money for luxury transit options over basic bus service?

• The county council could cap management wages at $50/hr. and cut top-heavy management.

• ST could use its tax authority to implement a tax on large employers, such as Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Starbucks and Boeing. The small tax for each employee could restore hours of bus service.

• Local governments could find revenue that doesn’t require legislative approval, such as higher fees on developers like Vulcan, which profits from zoning laws that promote density. This makes sense since a rise in urban density fosters the need for expanded bus service and other forms of public transit.

Last, but not least, local officials should press the legislature for progressive tax solutions. A steeply graduated income tax on millionaires and big corporations could raise hundreds of millions of dollars — enough to fund all the public services that residents need. Many of these ideas are being put forward by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), a cross-union labor organization. OWLS is also urging the public to call on county officials to stop the bus cuts, restore service and roll back the fare hikes.

Bus service isn’t just important, it’s a lifeline for thousands of people. It’s time for officials to stop talking bus cuts and start moving mountains to ensure this vital public service is fully funded.

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Comments

Create a secure credit card via one of the Washington State banks. Every time we use a credit card the bank earns a fee. Why not make a deal with a bank so they share the fee with public transit.

Michael Sigler | submitted on 02/11/2014, 3:03pm

I'm all for ourbig corporations, who receive subsidies/special interest from this admin, in return for donations and fundraising, to be taxed FIRST! Technocracy @ a min, more like progressive Fascism

David Matheson | submitted on 02/12/2014, 3:42pm


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