Wednesday, October 29, 2008
And, here's a fun video that I'm sure some people are going to freak out over. In fact, many already have if you read the comments. Ah, isn't that too bad.
"Oh voters in America, Obama is thy name. If you're voting for change, Obama is the right man. The change will come, Thy will be done, as it is in American Dream."
"Thy will" is referring to the will of the American People. Enjoy:
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The Fall 2008 report from my King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson mentions a proposed $0.50 fare increase that County Executive Ron Sims has put on the table for the budget discussions. We had an increase of 25 cents last year. Costs are going up. Way up. I'd like to talk about the numbers we are talking about.
The question I want to ask in reply to this quarterly update was this:
Has anyone done a calculation to show people how the current fare balances tax revenue and the rider fares? I think it would be interesting to see, and to show the voters in King County, what the fare would be if the system were exclusively paid for by riders, as well as what the taxes would need to be to be able to reduce the fare to zero. Knowing that we are maintaining a balance between these two extremes might go a long way to calming people's anxiety about how much the service costs and just how much it is worth. I currently pay for a $1.75 bus pass on a monthly basis, costing me $63.
I'm sure that someone has done this before, but insomnia gave me the motivation to try and figure it out for myself. The King County Metro Transit, 2007 Annual Management Report gave me the numbers that I'm working with here.
Here's a table of expenses over the last few years.
|Bus Operating Cost per Boarding|
|Bus Operations Revenue per Boarding|
|Expense per Boarding|
I'm not sure where the exact numbers for "Bus Operating Cost per Boarding" come from, because the Expense / Boardings ratio is the actual math. But what it shows is the amount of money that would be required by people getting on the bus to pay for the operations of the system. This does not include Capital costs, like building the Transit Centers, Bus Barns and Maintenance Yards. I ride the bus, and of course I'd rather pay the $1.75 or even lower, but it's useful to see that increasing the fare to $2.25 would not match the nearly $4 cost to Metro of providing me the service. By the way, $1.75 to $2.25 is a 28.57% increase. Hold that thought.
Let's look at the other side of the coin. Here are some more numbers from the 2007 Operating Report.
|Non Operating Revenue|
Operating Revenue includes the fares, passes and other things. Sales Taxes are only part of the Non Operating Revenue, although they are the largest part by far. I think we have enough numbers now to play "What If".
If we were going to increase fares so that the 117,492,162 riders covered the entire revenue of $675.6 Million, each person would have to pay $5.75. Per trip. Considering that the calculation they give for how much people actually pay for a ride, $0.81, that's off the charts.
If we were to increase Sales Taxes to cover the entire revenue, we would need a 57.4% increase in that portion of the tax.
My momentum on looking at numbers is running out, after a few hours of looking things up and trying to understand what I'm looking at. So I'm going to finish this by talking about principles. Our revenue sources for transportation are unbalanced in my opinion. Sales taxes are used for Transportation,
The background information about the 2008 fare increase, available here, gives us this paragraph:
Additional revenue would increase financial stability
Sales tax revenues – the bulk of Metro’s funding – can vary dramatically with changes in the economy. By increasing the percentage of its funding that comes from fares, Metro would have a more stable, predictable revenue source.
I don't see that. If we want a "stable, predictable revenue source", we should not be depending on any one source, or even two sources. Sales Taxes do depend on the economy, certainly. But ridership and fare revenue also depend on the economy. People take transit to go back and forth to work, as well as shopping and "touristy" stuff like going downtown for dinner and a movie, or seeing friends. In economic slumps, the number of these trips can vary wildly. Even property tax revenue isn't constant year after year, and while I would personally advocate for putting some of the cost of our transit options beyond just the roads on property tax bills, I don't think it's a 100% solution any more than anything else. What we need is a balance between all of the various revenue sources that provides us with the resources we need to provide the services that we want. I need to repeat that number of 117.5 Million people using the bus again here because those people obviously want Metro service. The only other revenue source that I have not mentioned so far is Income taxes.
Barack Obama wants to give an Income Tax break to 95% of us, with the lower incomes getting more than the higher incomes. John McCain wants to give a tax break to everyone, with the higher incomes getting the most. How much of what we pay in Income Taxes in Washington come back to us to help pay for things like Transit? Not much. Because all of that revenue is collected by the Federal Government and used for the Federal Budget. The State doesn't have an Income Tax. King County can't asses one, even though we have quite a few very wealthy individuals, many of whom WANT their income tax dollars helping to pay for things like transit so their employees can get to work here in Washington State instead of paying for pork projects in other states. But do we have a real proposal about Income Taxes in Washington? Is anyone willing to look at the numbers and discuss how we balance our revenue sources so Metro doesn't get hit with a $70 Million shortfall this year? Anyone? Governor? Media?
Nah... It might make Tim Eyman come up with another hair-brained idea.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Reading this article, I am saddened by the lack of imagination and vision in the County Executive's office. I understand that we are in the middle of a financial crunch, but we are also in the middle of a cultural transformation period the likes of which civilization has not seen since the end of the Roman Empire. No, I'm not kidding. The "localization movement" is just getting started. Our energy infrastructure needs to change from centralized to distributed. The job market is changing to "Green Jobs". The next decade will see the greatest transformation of our economy that we have seen since the first Industrial Revolution. King County needs to step up to the plate, not use a hatchet on the budget.
I can think of a number of things that could keep the King County Fair going.
Giving the food vendor spots over to local restaurants instead of national junk-food chains is a start. http://www.tasteofseattle.com/
Open up the market stalls to the Washington State Farmers Market Association. http://www.wafarmersmarkets.com/
In additional to 4H, Future Farmers of America and other agriculture based youth organizations, open up one of the buildings for a giant Jr. High and High School level science fair. http://www.seattlescience.com/
Invite local and national renewable energy manufacturers and service providers to give talks and lectures, instead of vendors like "Jay the Juiceman", talking about how people can increase the energy efficiency of their homes, how they can increase recycling at work, how they can volunteer to help keep up our parks and wild spaces. http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/081016/aqth025.html?.v=75
Make part of the fair a giant job-hunters market, where people looking for work can meet small and medium sized businesses looking for good people. http://www.employment-expo.com/
The King County Agricultural Fair has been going since 1863. Maybe it's time for an evolution. King County has one third of the population of the entire state of Washington. If attendance for the King County Fair has been dropping, it's most likely because we are still thinking of a Rural fair in an Urban/Suburban county. Changing our thinking, and asking ourselves what a Fair would be like if we thought outside of that box, is the first step to re-engaging people in 2008/2009.
I hope that we can find a way to keep the Fair part of our tradition here in King County. Large community events like this are important, and need our support.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
My good friend Gerry Pollet is running against another good friend, Scott White. He's behind in fundraising, and he did not win the Primary. However, thanks to our anti-party public in Washington State which passed I-872 in 2004, and a U.S. Supreme Court that doesn't believe in using their imaginations, both Gerry and Scott will be on the ballot in November. I'm supporting Scott, for a lot of reasons. But I respect Gerry as well. So this is tough.
Gerry sent out an email yesterday stating the claim that Scott had accepted money from the BIAW. Ok, well, not the BIAW, but an "arm" of the BIAW. A PAC. That he does not name. But it's the BIAW, right? It's all the same boggieman, right?
Good question. And it's a question that I have not found a clear answer to. Gerry refers to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that describes how this all works, and lists all of the Democrats getting money from the BIAW. Or at least the arms of this terrible political octopus.
Several Democrats interviewed about the contributions made a distinction among the BIAW's PAC, the Washington Affordable Housing Council, the Master Builders PAC, the Affordable Housing Council and other local builders' action committees. They said they work with the builders in their communities on a variety of issues, and although those local groups are members of the BIAW, they don't always share the same hardball political bent.
There's also a PI Blog entry on the topic of Gerry's letter and Scott's response.
Lets put some more links on the table.
BIAW Local Associations
Scott has raised more than $110,000 dollars in this campaign. $800 of that was from the "Affordable Housing Council", which is the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. The MBA-KS is an arm of the BIAW.
I found a page about the AHC on the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties website. Scott is not on their endorsement list. House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) is. And they gave a contribution to another good friend of mine. Richard Conlin, from the Seattle City Council. So did they give $800 to a candidate that they did not endorse? I don't know.
Building homes is not a partisan issue. Should it be? Can we honestly say that anyone who runs on a platform of helping people live the American Dream should not take any contributions from the people who swing the hammers to build those homes?
Public financing will do a lot to help with this. But the first thing we have to do is stop going crazy. Is the BIAW an evil organization? Define evil. I'm getting a headache.
And I still support Scott. Because I believe that he will do a better job building coalitions in Olympia to help support the progressive values and issues that I stand for and that the 46th District Democrats stands for.