Regressivity of proposed Metro funding loomed large at King County Council hearing

King County Council held a hearing on Metro funding at Union Station in Seattle this evening.

The state legislature was unable to come to agreement last year on funding for Metro buses — because Senate Republicans held the transportation package hostage to their demands for  the cost-saving “reforms” that would weaken unions, weaken environmental regulations, and reduce funding for education.

During the 90 minutes of public testimony that I listened to, every speaker* opposed cuts to  Metro buses. Most of the speakers voiced support for the Council’s proposed Plan B: create a Transportation Benefit District and submit a ballot measure to King County voters to approve

  • $60 vehicle license fee, raising an estimated $80 million a year
  • One-tenth of a cent sales tax that would expire after 10 years, raising an estimated $50 million a year

The council members and speakers mentioned plans to offset the fees and tax with discounted fare for poor people.

Students from UW, heads of hospitals, directors of social service organizations, local politicians (including the mayor of Mercer Island) all spoke in favor of Plan B. This is consistent with earlier hearings I attended, organized by the Senate Transportation Committee.

What surprised, and delighted, me was that about half a dozen speakers expressed opposition to the regressivity of the proposed taxes.  A representative of the Transit Riders Union said her organization hasn’t yet decided whether to approve Plan B, though they, of course, don’t want to see cuts to metro bus service.    The representative also wanted a reduced fare of $0.75 or $1.00 for poor people.

Someone said: implement a Plan C: progressive taxation.

A representative of the Freedom Socialists asked why there’s no proposal to tax the corporation that benefit greatly from the transportation system that allows their employees to get to work.  A blind woman concurred and said: Boeing should pay.

Two weeks ago Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant issued a news release in which she said: “This proposal would force the same low-income households, already battered by the recession, to again pick up the tab on behalf of big business and the wealthiest 1%. Moreover, the TBD will not permanently solve the crisis and working people will be asked to pay again and again.”

One elderly man, who indicated he was affluent, said he had three things to say:  “Save Metro, tax me more!  Save Metro, tax me more! Save Metro, tax me more!”

Several of the speakers mentioned that Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation.

In response to all the talk about regressive taxation, several supporters of Plan B said: in this emergency we don’t have the luxury of progressive taxation;   it should, though, be part of a longer term plan.

I’m glad that the issue of progressive taxation is getting some notice. Too bad that the Democrats, including Governor Inslee, church leaders, educators, and media personalities aren’t taking a lead on the issue.

*Except perhaps for the two trolls whose main aim seemed to be to tease the council members and Dow Constantine about their high salaries — the trolls got their microphones cut off and were escorted by police from the room, under orders from council member Larry Phillips with the justification that the speeches were off-topic.

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