Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Pierce Transit


Public unions can spare themselves the backlash

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Political drama doesn’t get much richer than what’s unfolded in Wisconsin the last few days.

Democrats fleeing the state. Republicans dispatching state troopers to catch their leader. Tens of thousands of demonstrators mobbing the Capitol.

Behind it is a dead serious issue: the extraordinary power public unions have exercised over government budgets.

In Wisconsin, the backlash against government unions has taken the form of a GOP drive to repeal collective bargaining for most public-sector employees. Similar drives are happening in other states where Republicans recently won governorships and gained control over legislatures.

This would not be happening if the unions had the support of the public. Many of those unions have forfeited that support by clinging to lush compensation packages at a time when workers in the private sector – including union members – are enduring the toughest economy in generations. A time when public services are being scaled back ruthlessly while generous labor contracts have continued on autopilot.

Too many examples are found in Pierce County. Although the cost of living has been flat, some union leaders have adamantly rejected pleas to reopen their contracts to reduce “cost-of-living” raises that considerably exceed the actual rate of inflation.
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Palin, Pierce Transit and WTF

Are Sarah Palin and opponents of Pierce Transit Proposition 1 in cahoots? Well, probably not. But both are using “WTF” to make their points.

According to the Associated Press, Palin noted on her Facebook page that President Obama’s State of the Union address was dubbed “Winning the Future” and suggested that the acronym for that title, WTF, aptly sums up the speech.

Like LOL is an Internet acronym for “laugh out loud,” WTF has been used to ask “What the ….?”

Opponents of the transit ballot measure, which would raise the transit sales tax

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Come back, Pierce Transit, with a tighter Plan B

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As they’re eyeing the sales tax increase Pierce Transit wants them to approve on Feb. 8, voters should understand that this is not a last-chance proposition.

The measure’s supporters say its failure would result in a devastating 35 percent cut in bus and van service. Maybe, maybe not.

The fact is, Pierce Transit has enough cash in reserve to buy the time it needs to return to the ballot with a more realistic proposal. We think the voters ought to wait for a less expensive Plan B – and Pierce Transit ought to give them one.

Let’s acknowledge up front that mass transit is an essential public service. It gets people with disabilities or low income to jobs, doctors’ offices and stores. When people of higher income take buses instead of driving their own cars, transit takes traffic off the road and keeps pollution out of the air.

Those who believe that transit has a paramount claim on the available sales tax – in a dire economic climate – ought to vote for Proposition 1.

In our view, Pierce Transit has not yet fully grasped the fact that this downsized economy demands doing more with less.

Its board and administrators are asking for a 0.3 percent addition to the 0.6 percent sales tax it already collects in Pierce County, which would translate into a $30 million-a-year, 50 percent increase in revenue. That would max out its potential taxing authority; the idea is to offset the decline in sales tax revenue it has suffered since the recession began in late 2007.

Pierce Transit in effect is asking taxpayers to largely insulate it against the harsh economic realities that are forcing other organizations to ruthlessly cut expenses and reinvent themselves in order to survive.

The agency has imposed some economies on itself, including a substantial squeezing of its administrative costs. But its employee compensation packages – by far the largest part of its budget – bear no relationship to reality. Its standard health plan falls into the “Cadillac” category, and most of its workers have enjoyed generous pay increases right on through the worst economy in 60 years.
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Pierce Transit’s all-or-nothing approach is flawed

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Pierce Transit is in a bind – one partly of its own making.

The agency has heard from riders who won’t be able to get to work or to doctor’s appointments if bus service takes the brunt of a recessionary beating.

It has heard from small cities threatening to walk if service to outlying areas is sacrificed to preserve urban routes and frequency. It has heard from taxpayers who balk at paying more to support Pierce Transit in the manner to which it had become accustomed.

Now the agency’s board of commissioners must decide: Does Pierce Transit go hat in hand to voters or does it resize the agency to make do?

The options, as portrayed to the public, are stark: A 50 percent increase in Pierce Transit’s sales tax or a 43 percent reduction of service. Some choice.

Some false choice, to be more blunt.

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Pricey health benefits tax Pierce Transit budget

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Lagging sales tax receipts and beefy employee pay raises aren’t the only factors sapping Pierce Transit’s ability to maintain existing services.

Pricey health care coverage for employees is wreaking its own havoc.

In some respects, the public agency is not alone. Ask any employer about the costs of providing health care for employees, and groaning will be the likely response. Medical hyperinflation has sent the cost of health insurance soaring, outstripping the ability of many organizations to maintain coverage.

At Pierce Transit, the cost of employee benefits has risen more than 40 percent in the last three years, largely due to increases in the cost of health insurance. This is an agency talking about drastic service cuts or a sales tax increase.

Many employers have responded to such runups by paring back benefits or upping employee contributions. Pierce Transit has done some of that, but it still pays a high price for health care plans, even by public sector standards.

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Way too little belt-tightening at Pierce Transit

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Pierce Transit deserves a whole chapter in an economics textbook. It’s a near-perfect illustration of the disconnect between some government agencies and recessionary reality.

Yes, Pierce Transit has cut overhead since its revenue from the county sales tax began dropping in late 2007. But the bulk of its operating budget goes to seemingly untouchable pay and benefits. Most of its workers are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 758, whose members keep getting nice yearly raises even as the agency contemplates severe cuts in bus service for the public.

The current union

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Pierce Transit: An agency in trouble

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Pierce Transit is seeing the first stirrings of a rebellion that may get rowdier in months to come.

Officials in five of the county’s cities – Bonney Lake, Buckley, Orting, Steilacoom and DuPont – have started talking out loud about seceding from the taxing district that supports the mass transit agency. That’s because the people at Pierce Transit are considering cutting back service dramatically – while still collecting the sales taxes in the places where service is getting cut.

Pierce Transit points to a slide in sales tax revenue that began near the end of 2007 and didn’t slow until last summer. That put the agency’s projected income far below the steady 6 percent annual increases it apparently had expected would continue indefinitely.

The agency’s leaders are floating two possibilities for making ends meet: By either radically reducing bus service outside the county’s Tacoma-Lakewood urban core, or by asking county voters to add 0.3 percent to the local sales tax.

The first option is ugly and – to be blunt – could be a recipe for the extinction of Pierce Transit. It could cut more than half of the existing bus routes, including all service to Edgewood, Milton, Northeast Tacoma, Buckley and the Key Peninsula. All other communities the agency now serves would see fewer routes or less frequent stops. Bonney Lake would lose all local service. East Pierce County would be particularly hard-hit.
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Heads up: More tax votes coming

Despite the lousy economy, Metro Parks Tacoma and Pierce Transit are both readying tax proposals for the voters this year.  Neither has much choice, I gather.

The school districts going to the polls in February and March are mostly seeking to renew expiring multi-year special levies. Their timing is dictated by the calendar, not the economy.

Not so for Metro Parks and Pierce Transit.  Parks officials are planning a levy lid-lift proposal on April 27.  Pierce Transit will likely seek a sales tax increase in August or November.

Both agencies are hoping to stave off dire budget cuts, but their circumstances differ.

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