Editorial: Reset King County Metro’s fiscal operations, free from political theater
King County Executive Dow Constantine’s veto of a plan to stave off Metro bus cuts shows an absence of leadership.
Seattle Times Editorial
VOTERS’ rejection of a King County Metro funding package in April should have sent a clear message to county elected leaders. Put Metro’s financial house in order before seeking yet another boost in revenue.
That is now beginning to occur, thanks to the leadership of Metropolitan King County Council member Rod Dembowski. With Dembowski taking the lead, the council on Monday unanimously approved a plan to address some of Metro’s short-term budget deficit with internal tinkering, rather than new taxes.
The plan requires Metro to slightly increase the portion of revenue it gets from fares, and to reset its costs to be more competitive with peer transit agencies. It also requires a thorough performance audit. The last such audit, prompted by the Great Recession, cut Metro’s costs by more than $200 million. A new one likely can find further efficiencies.
Monday’s vote was a victory for taxpayers, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by other political theater regarding Metro, orchestrated by King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Dembowski, again hearing the message from the April vote, swayed a 5-to-4 majority of the council to delay Metro bus-service cuts that the agency — and Constantine — told voters were necessary if they didn’t approve Proposition 1.
Delaying hundreds of thousands of hours of planned service cuts for 2015 is fiscally prudent. New forecasts for Metro’s portion of the county sales tax are coming in higher than expected, thanks to a recovering economy. That revenue, combined with the performance audit, should reduce Metro budget deficits projected for next year.
Service cuts planned for September appear to be unavoidable, but that might not be true for rounds of cuts scheduled for 2015. Why make cuts that may not be necessary? Government can, and should, be more nimble than that.
Constantine, instead, immediately vetoed Dembowski’s plan to delay service cuts, and mocked it for “such empty managerial platitudes as ‘budget-scrubbing’ and ‘top-to-bottom review.’ ”
The blistering — and disappointing — tone showed an absence of leadership at the very moment that the public, through its April vote, has demanded leadership. Constantine appeared more focused on fulfilling the full campaign threat of cutting bus service — than on the effect those cuts would have on riders.
As a result of the veto, Metro’s planned bus cuts are in limbo. Constantine should work with the council to reset Metro’s fiscal operations — including its fifth-highest-in-the-nation driver costs — and limit service cuts to only those immediately necessary.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).