For a few minutes Monday night, most of the proposed cuts to Metro bus service were spared. In a narrow 5-4 vote, the King County Council agreed to only go ahead with the cuts planned for this September, and hold off on three more rounds of cuts planned for 2015.
But soon after the vote, County Executive Dow Constantine vetoed the council’s measure. In a statement, Constantine said the council measure “falls short of responsible budgeting.”
King County Metro faces an ongoing budget shortfall, and Constantine said the council’s approach ignores the need to cut bus service to an affordable level. In his only veto since taking office in 2009, Constantine told the council to “try again.” But that could prove challenging.
On Monday afternoon, a tense policy debate split the council as to the timing and extent of the cuts. Metro has laid out a timeline for four rounds of bus cuts, starting in September 2014. All told, that would reduce bus service by 16 percent. Constantine has backed that plan.
But last week, councilmember Rod Dembowski proposed alternate legislation that would only authorize the first round of cuts, for now. He said recent revenue projections suggest fewer cuts might be needed.
As the council debated the competing options Monday, council chair Larry Phillips disagreed with Dembowski’s approach, saying the county needs to operate on the budget it has now, not what it hopes to have later.
“It is no different frankly … than writing a big check without sufficient funds in the bank to pay for it, hoping you can cover it.”
“I think that we’re going to be fine,” Dembowski countered. “With respect, I reject in the strongest possible terms, Mr. Chair, your insinuation that this is irresponsible. It is an opinion not based on any facts presented to this council at any time in the process.”
Phillips said he strongly disagreed.
Dembowski’s measure would have authorized cuts or changes to about 40 Metro bus routes. Now, Constantine’s veto puts the full slate of bus cuts back on the table, which includes the elimination of 72 routes and schedule reductions for 84 more routes.
In April, voters rejected a sales tax increase and a $60 car tab fee to maintain county transit at current service levels.
Meanwhile, the City of Seattle is looking into ways to prevent bus cuts within the city.