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King County councilmember wants Metro funding to take advantage of Seattle’s rapid growth

King Country Metro Transit will make cuts in September, and more cuts to follow won't be stopped. A measure from the King County Council that would have delayed some of the deeper bus cuts on the grounds that the county is seeing an uptick in sales tax revenues was vetoed by County Executive Dow Constantine, Monday. ( Photo/Alyssa Kleven)

Voters want to know, is there enough money to keep the buses running in King County or not?

King County Councilmember Democrat Rod Dembowski worked on pushing a measure through that would have delayed some of the deeper bus cuts on the grounds that the county is seeing an uptick in sales tax revenues. On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine vetoed the measure.

Dembowski tells KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross he doesn’t understand the veto: Seattle, as one of the fastest growing cities in the country, also has a rapidly growing economy.

“You see those cranes,” he says of the city’s development. “Our revenues are up $31 million, $32 million over the next two years, and we need to take advantage of that.”

According to Dembowski, many voters who didn’t approve the Prop. 1 ballot measure in April, which would have raised car tab fees in part to help supplement King County Metro Transit’s budget, were sending a message that the bus system is inefficient.

But he also says there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings among voters, like about whether the county is overspending on things like Metro drivers. Dembowski says they’re not.

“I think our average senior tenure driver makes about $64,000 a year,” he says. “That’s a family wage job, a living wage job, and that’s what we should be promoting.”

When he looks at the overall cost, Metro’s cost per passenger, per mile, 99 cents, is only slightly above other major transit agencies, at 98 cents.

“We’re not super high, or out of line. But could we do a little better? We could,” Dembowski says. “We have a high quality system. We clean our buses regularly, we maintain them well and that’s a choice we make: to maybe spend a little bit more than some other systems. So again, I want to say that we are not going to ‘save our way out of this,’ but that doesn’t mean we don’t stop and look for savings.”

Democrats have been accused of punishing voters because Prop. 1 wasn’t approved, and that funds to keep the buses running could still be found. And as Dave says, that’s what a lot of voters suspect.

Dembowski acknowledges that might be true, to a certain extent, “I would say that some […] folks in the political world believe that chances to obtain additional funding are improved if residents feel the pain.”

But that’s not how every Democrat thinks, he says.

“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. I do believe in watching the taxpayer dollar because I think when we do that, when we take care to run the very best government possible in an open and transparent way, the citizens will trust us to provide more services – and that’s what I want to do here.”

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