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As of November 27, 2019, Initiative 976 has been halted via a preliminary injunction. Voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District funding will continue to fund service hours unless there is a change in a permanent injunction or court ruling. A ruling on a permanent injunction is expected in late 2019 or early 2020, which could continue that funding or reverse the preliminary injunction and force cuts. These injunctions are only a temporary step in the legal process and do not determine the ultimate legal outcome. The case is likely to be heard by the Washington Supreme Court and a final court decision on the constitutionality of the initiative is not expected until later in 2020. Decisions on Metro funding made by policymakers may not come until after that constitutional question is determined by the state Supreme Court.

What is I-976 and how does it affect Metro?

Q. What is I-976 (“Bring back our $30 car tabs?”) and what does it have to do with King County Metro?

A. Initiative 976, which was approved by the voters in November 2019, repealed and removed certain vehicle taxes and fees, and limited state and local license fees to $30 for most vehicles.

As of November 2019, King County does not collect a vehicle license fee or a motor vehicle excise tax, the taxing sources repealed by Initiative 976. However, there are public transportation services and mobility projects in King County operated and being implemented by Metro that are funded by the state of Washington, Sound Transit, and 13 King County cities via those now-repealed tax sources.

What Metro services are funded by fees or taxes repealed under I-976?

A. From governing bodies like the state of Washington and City of Seattle that collected vehicle license fees and other taxes, Metro received funding for:

  • 175,000 service hours on 74 routes funded by City of Seattle;
  • 10,000 service hours for Route 101;
  • Routes that cross city boundaries from Seattle to Burien, Shoreline, Skyway, Tukwila, and White Center;
  • RapidRide expansion programs;
  • Speed and reliability projects;
  • Special needs transportation funding;
  • Vanpool program;
  • Base expansion; and
  • Access to transit and transit integration projects.

Impacts to service

Q. What will happen to transit service in King County since I-976 passed?

A. Many of the decisions regarding what happens to certain programs and services will be made by the governing body that provides funding. Assuming, for example, that no replacement funds were made available, Metro estimates it will lose 175,000 Metro bus service hours on 74 routes due to the loss of Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funding. That is the equivalent of almost half of the weekday service hours provided on RapidRide Lines A-F.

If the state Legislature decided to make across-the-board reductions in the Multimodal Account due to I-976 passage, it will result in approximately $119 million in cuts to Metro services between 2020 and 2025. These cuts could include:

  • Reduction of $36 million to support electrification of bus fleets across the state, including Metro.
  • $22.8 million in cuts to the Regional Mobility Grant Program awards for nine Metro projects, including RapidRide expansion, speed and reliability projects, access to transit, transit integration, and reduction in service on the Route 101 in Renton.
  • Burien, Kent, Tukwila, and Seattle could see cuts of $29.2 million in grants for RapidRide investments, access, to transit, and speed and reliability improvements.
  • $43.6 million in cuts to the Access paratransit program.
  • Other cuts to programs that provide bus passes to high school students, and incentives to small businesses and non-profits to provide ORCA Passes to employees could also be included.

In addition to the above potential reductions to the Multimodal Account, cuts due to I-976’s passage might also include:

  • $4 million in cuts to Roads Services between 2020 and 2025 due to the potential reduction in the State’s Multimodal Account and County Road Arterial Board.
  • Loss of the VLF as a revenue source for the existing King County Transportation Benefit District (TBD) or a potential, new unincorporated King County TBD.
  • Loss of 175,000 Metro bus service hours on 74 routes in Seattle, Burien, Shoreline, Skyway, Tukwila, and White Center during 2020, as a result of the cuts to the Seattle TBD funding. The Seattle TBD is expected to lose $36 million a year due to I-976 passage.
  • $30.4 million in cuts to 12 suburban cities between 2020 and 2025 due to loss of the VLF as a funding source for their local TBDs.
  • $1-$10 million per year in cuts to Metro services due to cuts in formula grant funding provided by the Federal Transit Administration due to reductions in the services Metro provides as a result of I-976-related cuts.
  • Cuts of $328 million per year to Sound Transit, based on OFM analysis.

Please visit Potential Impacts of I-976 on King County Metro and Regional Transit System for more detailed information.

Q. Since I-976 passed, will Metro really have to cut service?

A. Policymakers at the state, county, and participating cities will have to consider how to respond to the loss of revenue. Cities, the state, and the county will have to determine if they want to continue funding programs and services provided by Metro, and how to do so.

Q. What routes will be affected if transit service is cut?

A. Metro has a list of routes purchased through the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). See map for routes receiving STBD funding. This map does not necessarily reflect the service reductions Metro could make due to I-976 passage. Other impacts outside of Seattle are not known at this time.

When Metro must reduce service, guidelines help identify the services to be reduced. Some factors in those guidelines include:

  • The relative impacts to all areas of the county in order to minimize or mitigate significant impacts in any one area.
  • Ways to minimize impacts through the type of reduction, particularly by restructuring service.
  • The identified investment need on corridors.
  • Preservation of last connections.

Read more about our service guidelines.

Q. What other cities in King County, besides Seattle, relied on vehicle licensing fees?

A. Of the 17 cities that have formed Transportation Benefit Districts, 13 use the vehicle licensing fee as a source of revenue. In addition to Seattle, they are:

  • In east King County, Kenmore, Mercer Island, and Snoqualmie.
  • In northwest King County, Lake Forest Park and Shoreline.
  • In south King County, Black Diamond, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Maple Valley, and Normandy Park.

Q. Will this impact RapidRide expansion?

A. Since I-976 passed, if funding is not maintained by the sponsoring city and state governments, RapidRide expansion and investments are expected to be impacted due to $52 million in cuts to the Regional Mobility Grant Program.

Funding and Jobs

Q. Will employees lose their jobs?

A. Metro will seek to retain all current employees as we work with policymakers on addressing reductions in funding. Shifting employees to other work on funded programs may be one option. However, policy choices could result in a reduction in workforce, slower hiring of open positions, or a freeze in hiring. A reduction of 175,000 service hours represents the work of approximately 78 full-time employees.

Q. How much more funding would Seattle have to come up with to maintain its investments in Metro bus service?

A. Approximately $32 million each year.

Q. Couldn’t Metro pay for the programs directly? What about using the revenue generated from the paid permit parking program passed earlier in 2019?

A. Metro does not have unallocated funds available to fund these programs. Revenue projected to come from the paid permit parking program at county park and ride facilities is expected to be $523,449 for 2019/2020 and $1,278,396 for 2021/2022. Those funds are dedicated to safety improvements and real-time information systems for transit customers.