Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Transportation Funding Roundtable

This week I attended a roundtable discussion on state transportation funding at the Machinists Union Hall in Everett, one of many that are being held around the region. There was a small, but good group of participants, including State Reps. Marko Liias and Mike Sells, Snohomish County Council Chair Dave Somers and Edmonds City Council President Strom Peterson.

People were focused on priorities for the 2012 Legislature, which is supposed to take up the issue of state transportation funding, including possible money for transit.

Somers discussed the county’s planning efforts, which include both a six-year transportation plan and a 30-year multimodal plan. He was proud of the fact that county planners worked collaboratively with transit and the various cities in creating their plans. But, purely from a capital perspective, he said there is already a $60 million funding gap for the six-year plan.

Fixing the infrastructure we now have and looking at road projects is a priority for the county heading into the legislative session. Somers, who is a member of the Community Transit Board of Directors, also made his pitch for transit funding.

Liias said that coming out of this Great Recession the impacts to families will be great as people who have lost jobs, and especially those who faced long-term unemployment, will be playing catch-up for the earnings they missed out on. For many of those families, the impacts may mean no money for college or similar life-changing decisions.

He said the number of people with no options has increased, and that will spill over to transportation choices, as fewer people can afford to buy or drive cars and more people turn to transit as their way to get around. The transit cuts we have faced here in Snohomish County have been devastating, and for those who will turn to transit in the future, we want to do our best to have a strong system for them to use.

Liias sponsored the legislation that ultimately resulted in a car tab fees that Metro got to sustain its service the next two years. The bill was originally written to help Community Transit, but by the time the session was done, our agency was dropped.

Which led to one of my points I made to the legislators: even if the Legislature grants local option funding measures for transit agencies to take to voters to raise sales taxes or car tab fees or whatever, Community Transit may well end up with no new money. Voter sentiment is not keen on taxes these days, which is why Metro supporters did whatever they could to avoid going to voters for the car tab fee.

The hope for next year is another steady revenue source for transit. One that is distributed by formula so that agencies get their fair share based on the numbers they serve.

Twelve years ago, Washington state apportioned motor vehicle excise tax revenues to transit agencies based on how many riders we carried. That steady funding source helped offset the volatility of the sales tax, our other main revenue source. After Initiative 695, the Legislature eliminated MVET funding for transit agencies. Community Transit had to cut its service by 27 percent and laid off hundreds of workers. In September 2001, ten years ago, Snohomish County voters approved a sales tax increase that took this agency to the 0.9 percent level we are at today, the maximum under state law.

Of course, when recession hit in late 2007, the volatility of that single revenue source was put on display as we lost 18 percent of our funding that still hasn’t come back. In all, between 2007 and 2013, the funding that was expected from that source that never materialized will total $207 million.

So, we are hopeful for a new state plan for transportation funding, but we must accept the fact that there could be one or several ballot measures to secure transit funding, and it may be mixed with road infrastructure funding as well.

At least two groups are talking about this right now, the Connecting Washington Task Force assembled by Governor Gregoire to put together a plan for transportation funding that will be sent to the Legislature, and Transportation for Washington, an advocacy coalition that seeks to promote new transportation funding.

Community Transit and our riders have a great deal at stake in next year’s legislative session. We will keep you updated on news as it develops. As a public agency, we cannot organize a constituency or endorse a ballot measure, but we can answer questions on how various proposals might impact this agency.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Thank you for the update regarding the roundtable discussion on state transportation funding that was held back in September at the Machinists Union Hall in Everett. I am surprised no one has followed up to share their thoughts on this important topic so I decided to do just that.
    A lot of important points were made regarding current funding sources in support of transit services and how those funding sources have changed over time based on various changes like Initiative 695. And now, through no fault of transit or their riders, due to the reduction in retail taxes during this recession Community Transit has been forced to make a number of cuts to service thereby greatly reducing the amount of services that can be provided to the residents of Snohomish County.
    It is good to hear that the county’s planning efforts include both a six-year transportation plan and a 30-year multimodal plan and that county planners worked with transit and various cities in creating their plans, but how is this going to be paid for with a capital funding shortfall of $60 million for the six-year plan? We all have to live within our means.
    This however brings up lots of reasons for us to either find new revenue, reduce current spending or if these fail we’ll be forced to further reduce the scope of these plans.
    Since fewer people can afford to buy or drive cars and more people rely on transit as their way to get around more and more rely on transit, but with the cuts, transit options are being reduced. Transit cuts here in Snohomish County are devastating.
    Liias’ car tab legislation that ultimately resulted in car tab fees that King County Metro got for the next two years is going to help KCM, but what about Community Transit and other transit agencies who were left out?
    I believe it is because of Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, 10th District, Camano Island that the original bill proposed by Liias was not ultimately passed in a format that included Community Transit. I don’t understand why Senator Haugen would do such a thing, but that was very irresponsible on her part. She has personally effected many lives due to her decision and reduced the quality of service that Community Transit can provide to the residents of Snohomish County during the short term. Senator Haugen should be held accountable for this. She should be voted out of office in the 2012 election. We need transportation advocates, expecially as the chair of a State’s Senate Transportation Committee! Senator Haugen, you made a very bad decision! You should have at least allowed the car tab legislation to be put up for a vote in a bill including Community Transit!

  2. (continued from other post today)
    Next year the residents of Snohomish County and throughout our state need a steady revenue source for transit. We need leadership in Olympia to make this happen.
    Perhaps it is time to re-establish something similar to what we had twelve years ago when Washington state apportioned motor vehicle excise tax revenues to transit agencies. I'm sure this is easier said than done. Transit agencies need a steady funding source to offset the reductions in sales tax.
    It is great to hear about the two groups who are talking about transit’s funding challenges, the Connecting Washington Task Force and Transportation for Washington who are seeking to promote new transportation funding. We look forward to hearing what they recommend.
    Community Transit, our riders, and everyone who uses our roads have a great deal at stake in next year’s legislative session.
    I challenge other citizens who care about and who support transit to let their opinions be heard. Tell people like Senator Haugen that we need to support public transit not tear it down! Snohomish County residents rely on public transportation each day to get them to work, the doctor or to the mall and for many other reasons.
    Transit also benefits those who do not ride for transit riders help reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways thereby reducing the wear and tear to our roads. Public transit also reduces the amount of fuel used helping the environment. Transit even helps our economy for riders have more spending power since they are not spending as much on their transportation costs, they have more money left over to spend on other necessities helping the overall economy.
    Finally, as a way to reduce costs, agencies like Community Transit will need concessions from their unions like ATU and IAM in order to reduce overhead costs (hourly wages and benefits for people like coach operators). This will be important as a cost containment strategy.
    Finally, without added revenue sources, CT will have no choice but to raise the cost to ride buses through increased fares.
    Lets all take on Community Transit’s slogan to “Think Transit First” and support transit.