Inside Opinion

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Tag: Pierce Transit


Pierce Transit tax needs sunset, not a gerrymander

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Pierce Transit has a credibility problem with the citizens who live within its taxing district. It should solve that problem at home, not do an end run through the Legislature.

Twice in the last two years, the transit agency has put a sales tax proposal on the ballot only to see it shot down by voters. In November, the second measure came within a cat’s whisker of success, falling short by barely more than 700 votes.

That tiny margin demonstrated that the agency could win the revenues it needs to prevent a drastic cutback in bus service. But it would have to abandon its insistence that the tax be chiseled into stone in perpetuity.

Had last fall’s measure contained a reasonable sunset clause – requiring a new vote after, say, six years – there’s little question it would have passed.

All is not lost. Pierce Transit’s leaders could still secure passage of a new sales tax by holding the agency accountable through a future vote. But transit supporters are seeking to game the process in Olympia to avoid another reckoning with the district’s electorate.
Read more »


Less than feared, transit cut are still painful

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

It’s all too easy to predict the effects of Pierce Transit’s service cutbacks scheduled to go into effect this summer: Many low-income workers, senior citizens and students will feel the pain of fewer routes and hours.

The agency’s board decided Monday to implement a 34 percent service reduction in late September rather than 36 percent by waiting until February 2014. A series of public meetings will take place first, which could convince the board to delay the cuts to the later date.

There’s not much difference between 34 percent and 36 percent, and the agency argues that so many low-seniority drivers are resigning that it will likely be short of bus operators by September anyway. So the timing probably works out better for the earlier implementation. Read more »


Voters guide statement fiascos show change is needed

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Pierce County now has had back-to-back debacles over who writes the “against” statement that appears in the voters pamphlet.

Both involve a notorious local felon and publicity hound, Robert “The Traveler” Hill, and they reflect obvious flaws in how statement writers are selected.

In the first case, Hill applied to write the statement opposing last fall’s Pierce Transit tax measure. Only one other person applied, and he said he wouldn’t participate if he had to collaborate on the statement with Hill – a jail inmate who’s had widely publicized, bizarre run-ins with the law. The Pierce Transit board’s lawyer reportedly said that no candidate could be rejected unless there were at least four applicants.
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Pierce Transit must regroup, rethink after Prop. 1 defeat

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Now that voters have rejected a permanent sales tax increase for Pierce Transit, what’s Plan B?

In the runup to the Nov. 6 election, the agency said that if Proposition 1 failed, it would have to cut weekend and evening service (after 7 p.m.) – on top of cuts that already have been made. From early spring 2014 to 2017, service hours would be cut from 419,000 to 197,000. Shuttle service for the elderly and disabled, which has been reduced significantly already, would be cut back even more.

The agency must revisit that Doomsday scenario. If Pierce Transit winds up squeezing its runs that radically, its usefulness as a regional transit agency will be radically diminished.
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Yes on Prop 1 – because transit is a necessity for all

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

At the heart of Proposition 1 – the transit measure on the Pierce County ballot – is a question: What kind of community do we want?

Prop 1 would impose a 0.3 percent sale tax increase (3 cents on a $10 purchase) within the transit district, which encompasses most of the county’s urban areas. The revenues would keep the system from rolling off a cliff with many of the county’s neediest citizens on board.

Most of Pierce Transit’s income comes from the 0.6 percent sales tax it already collects. But sales tax revenues continue to falter as economic recovery eludes the South Sound. At the same time, a recent downsizing of the transit district’s boundaries will cost the agency another $8 million a year.

Pierce Transit has already cut its bus and paratransit runs by roughly 40 percent. Without additional revenue, it expects to cut what remains by a crippling 53 percent.

Those aren’t just numbers on a page – they are human beings who depend on the bus to get to jobs, stores, school and doctor appointments.

Many don’t have any reliable alternative. The agency’s surveys indicate that 56 percent of its riders have household incomes of less than $20,000; they include the poorest of the poor. Close to half – 45 percent – do not have working vehicles.

Many have grave disabilities and depend on specially equipped paratransit vans. Paratransit service only extends along existing bus routes; when a route disappears, so do the vans.
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Pierce Transit board wants out of its tango with The Traveller

The Pierce Transit Board at the moment could be likened to a woman who has a few too many, gets picked up by a lowlife, wakes up in his grungy, broken-down bed and says, “How the hell did I get here? And how do I get out?”

The lowlife is Robert “The Traveller” Hill, a virtuoso stalker and harassment artist who’s tangled with the police and the courts dozens of times. He is sitting in the Pierce County Jail on a felony conviction for criminal intimidation of a judge.

The Pierce Transit Board wound up figuratively in bed with Hill on Monday in the worst possible way: It appointed him to write a statement for the voters pamphlet opposing the sales tax measure it will have on the ballot in November.

The board would have done less damage by appointing Hill to write the argument for the proposition. The way it happened, it looks as if the board deliberately picked one of the most disreputable human beings in sight to discredit the opposition. It’s the kind of move that alerts and mobilizes the enemy.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and other members of the board are excruciatingly aware of the smelly impression they’ve made. She said Thursday that she’s moving to persuade the board to seize an option it rejected Monday: Hold a special meeting before the Aug. 7 deadline to pick a credible committee to write the opposing statement.
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Pierce Transit’s tax gamble hangs on union’s play

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Pierce Transit board is poised to roll the dice again on the sales tax increase voters defeated in 2011. The odds look better this time, but the agency will have to first produce a union contract that won’t anger the taxpayers.

The measure on the ballot a year ago February failed for several reasons, economic distress being the chief of them. Tens of thousands of households were – and still are – suffering from loss of income and outright unemployment.

The agency failed to convince voters that it had done enough to squeeze its own expenses. That perception was fueled by the 4 percent salary increase Pierce Transit had previously bestowed upon its drivers, mechanics and other unionized employees, many of whom were already well-compensated by any standard.

Another problem was the fact that many people in the outlying parts of the transit district, especially in East Pierce County and on the Peninsula, were getting too little bus service for their tax money.

That issue that been addressed – by amputation. Effective last month, Pierce Transit dramatically pulled in its boundaries, lopping off 30 percent of its territory.

Gone now are large swaths of the eastern and western county, including Orting, Bonney Lake, Buckley and DuPont. The surgery removed the areas most opposed to the three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax that last year’s measure would have imposed.

That boosts the new measure’s chances. Advocates can also point to the fundamental importance of transit service.
Read more »


How many lattes is that new tax?

Here’s a case of deja vu.

The Seattle Times’ editorial about the proposed $20 car-tab tax in King County to fund its Metro bus agency sounds a lot like what we were saying earlier this year when Pierce Transit sought a sales tax increase.

We editorialized in January that PT hadn’t done enough to keep salaries and benefits under control during the recession. And we worried that the tax – which would max out the agency’s taxing authority – would have been a permanent one.

Pierce Transit’s tax went down to defeat, and if the Seattle Times’ editorial is any indication, a new tax for transit in King County won’t be popular there either.

Here’s the editorial. I particularly like the “latte” reference toward the end. Public officials seeking a new tax or increase to an existing one are always framing it like, “It’s the cost of one latte per month.” As the Times notes, those lattes can add up.

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

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. Read more »