Opinion

Editorial | Car tab vote

The King County Council plans to vote by Aug. 15 on a proposal to institute a $20 car-tab fee to bail Metro Transit out of a $60 million hole. When that vote comes, the final decision should be left to the voters.

Metro’s problem is like many other firms and institutions: costs are rising faster than revenue. In Metro’s case, revenue is down because most of it comes from the sales tax and people’s spending has declined. The transit agency says if it can’t find more money, it will have to cut service by 17 percent, which means reducing some transit trips or eliminating routes altogether.

Metro says it has made strides in reining in costs. It has cut 100 jobs, but this isn’t much in terms of the percent of employees, given the size of the operation. It has increased fares, but while that brings in more revenue, it does so on the backs of mostly those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. It has tapped its reserves — sometimes necessary, but always perilous. And employees have made pay concessions that have or will save Metro about $17 million.

Metro now is turning to the car-tab fee after state lawmakers earlier this year gave county officials the OK to charge an extra $20 for the tabs. Metro says that the fee would bring in $50 million over two years and, combined with its reserves, allow it to keep transit service relatively intact.

That sounds good, but we don’t want just six members of the County Council to make that decision, especially when the burden will fall on nearly everyone in the county. If the vast majority of us are going to pay the fee, we at least should have a say.

As of now, the council doesn’t have the six votes needed to impose unilaterally. The five votes they do have would only send the issue to the ballot.

Council members have indicated that there may be ways to wring more money from Metro’s operations, thus lowering the need for as much additional revenue. If that happens, a sixth vote may be found for adding the fee.

How about this instead. Members of the County Council work to find more efficiencies and savings in Metro’s operation. If successful, it lowers the amount Metro needs to keep its service intact. Now, put that more reasonable fee on the ballot.

Voters might be impressed enough to say “yes.”

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