Public Interest Transportation Forum -

The County Council Got it Right! 
Voting Taxes for King County Metro Transit in November Does Not Send Additional Money to Sound Transit

by John Niles

Archived story from year 2000

September 11, King County Council "Committee of the Whole" defeated the Sound Transit Light Rail Bail Out Tax Plan by a vote of seven to six.  Shortly thereafter, a Metro-only sales tax hike of 2/10 to be put on the November ballot passed by a vote of seven to six.  Maggi Fimia was the swing vote.  Full Council approval came later in the day by the same margin.  Metro Transit was saluted by Council as "the best transit system in the nation," with a market share of riders larger than the rail and bus systems in Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia.  Supporting 2 cents additional sales tax for Metro on a 10 buck purchase is now the right way to vote in November!  Along with defeating I-745!

How Executive Ron Sims thinks new transit money should be spent, announced September 21.

Some of the things I and others said prior to September 11 about this question, now "old news:"

Keep the focus of new county transportation taxes on Metro; don't ruin bus service with Sound Transit light rail!

Editorial from Seattle Times Op-Ed Essay by Councilwoman Maggi Fimia in Seattle P-I

Sound Transit has been recently shown to have serious cost control problems, mostly associated with Link light rail.

On August 14, the Council voted 13-0 to devise a new tax plan for the November ballot that combines features of proposals from County Executive Ron Sims, Council Member Maggi Fimia, Council Member Rob McKenna, and others.

On August 10, the news came out that three Seattle City Councilmembers have joined a broad group of concerned citizens who are urging the Metropolitan King County Council to put the emphasis on bus transportation when they ask voters to raise the sales tax in King County to support transit.

County Councilmembers Maggi Fimia and Rob McKenna forwarded a letter to Council colleagues supporting Fimia’s "2+1 Metro Service Plan" as an alternative to the county executive’s TRIP21 proposal. In addition to being signed by McKenna, it was also endorsed by; Peter Steinbrueck, Judy Nicastro and Nick Licata from the Seattle City Council; two prominent University of Washington professors; and the former directors of Metro Transit and the Port of Seattle.

Read the letter and the names at

A proposed November ballot measure known as TRIP21 to raise the sales tax .3 percent in King County that would have put Metro Bus service in jeopardy by linking bus funding to the fate of Sound Transit was temporarily stopped by the 13-0 vote on August 14.

Background:  Instead of just restoring the budget cuts brought on by Initiative 695, TRIP21 bundles in an additional new payment stream from taxpayers to support loaning Sound Transit $440,000,000 more on top of their $3,914,000,000 budget already authorized by taxpayers in 1996. With Sound Transit's $500,000,000 budget overrun before the tunnel digging starts, and the promise of costing $175,000 per new daily transit user on light rail, whether or not you like how Sound Transit is bringing light rail to Seattle (I don't), the fact is that Sound Transit by itself has the authority to ask taxpayers directly for more money. The state legislature's purpose last spring in giving King County authority to raise the sales tax for transit was to replace funds lost from the statewide I-695 vote last fall. Sound Transit lost nothing in the I-695 fallout; Metro lost big and needs help.

Sound Transit has no justification for tapping this King County source of funding for Metro. Some think that putting Sound Transit funding together with Metro bus funding will help the whole thing pass more easily. But this is risky political strategy given the ongoing exposure of problems with Sound Transit light rail plan, likened to a harpooned whale by commentator David Brewster last April.

Fortunately, there is a bus-saving alternative tax plan from Councilwoman Maggi Fimia (Democrat, District 1) that focuses on Metro and lets Sound Transit raise its own money. Her 2+1 METRO Service Plan would increase the sales tax .2 percent to restore transit revenues lost because of I-695. Her plan would also offer voters the option to increase the tax by an additional .1 percent to enhance bus service.

Now, what about the polls?  A Seattle P-I story by Mike Lewis on August 9 reports that polled voters have a stronger preference for the TRIP 21 tax proposal including light rail over a plan that is bus only. Two problems:   First, the poll was designed and conducted by the folks who in fact want the County to fund light rail. For example, the question about TRIP21 implied that the money raised for light rail would actually be enough to build the tracks to Northgate, which is doubtful. Second, the poll is before the for- and anti- campaign begins. People will know more about what they are voting on by November. Sound Transit will be in the news a few more times between now and November, and it will likely not all be good news, such as the August 9 story by Jim Brunner in the Seattle Times about the City of Seattle's request for a costly change to the light rail construction plans.

Read professional transportation engineer Jim MacIsaac's analysis of the data provided to Council that illustrate the important public transit needs around the Puget Sound region (Word document download). In this document, Jim notes that "directing more of our scarce transportation funding resources into the Seattle-centric Sound Transit Link Light Rail system may not be the appropriate focus of transit funding in King County."

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Last modified: September 2000