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Originally published June 29, 2011 at 4:10 PM | Page modified June 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Corrected version

King County Metro needs overhaul, not a tax to cover past unsustainable decisions

The Seattle Times editorial board opposes the $20 car-tab tax proposed in King County to raise money for King County Metro.

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KING County Executive Dow Constantine proposes an annual $20 car-tab tax to prevent cuts in bus service. The tax, another county official suggested, is only worth the price of five lattes and will last for two years.

We are not convinced.

Take the two years. It is argued that in two years the county can go to Olympia, or Washington, D.C., to get the money to offset the tax. Does anyone believe this?

The days of getting bailed out by a bigger government are coming to a close. Local governments have to get used to this. We all have to get used to it.

King County Metro Transit's deficit has several underlying causes. One is the economy, which is a problem we all have to live with — including the drivers who are expected to pay the tax.

Two problems are special to Metro. One is bus-driver pay. It can be defended by pointing to the 2010 contract, which has minimal raises. But under the previous contracts, between 2000 and 2009, bus-driver pay rose 38.5 percent, to the third-highest figure of any big-city bus operation in the country.

Metro now feels the consequences of the contracts it has signed.

Another problem is that Metro tried to serve the whole county. The agency is going back to setting routes based more on demand, and that is good. Run buses where people want to ride them. But it is too late to avoid this deficit.

Thus, a $20-per-car tax.

Do the people support this tax? The mail we receive is running very much against it. We note that Constantine has stated he wants the tax to pass the Metropolitan King County Council by a supermajority so the people will not have a say about it on Nov. 8.

Constantine can point to Metro's problems right now and make a logical case for the new $20 tax. In other times, this page would have agreed with him. Twenty dollars is, as a county official suggested, only five lattes. So it is.

The problem is that the five lattes are on top of all the other lattes, mochas and Frappuccinos people already buy for their government. Taxes go up in bad years because times are bad and good years because we can afford it.

There has to be a stopping point. Given the economic pain, the public opposition and the unbelievable claim that the $20 tax is for two years only, this is a good time to say no.

The original version of this editorial incorrectly attributed the reference to five lattes to the King County executive.

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