Like a tossed, leaky rowboat desperate for any hope of safe harbour from the storm, TransLink cheerleaders were falling over themselves after Seattle voters approved a tax hike for their bus service.
On November 4, a referendum passed to increase Seattle's sales tax by one tenth of a percentage point, and add a $60 annual car levy, in order to fund bus services.
But there are several inconvenient facts that TransLink fanboys don't want to talk about. The biggest is that 54 per cent of King County voters -- Seattle's version of Metro Vancouver -- voted down a similar transit tax grab on April 22, 2014. King County is far more similar to Metro Vancouver than just Seattle itself.
As the official statement opposing the April referendum said, "Your 'No' vote will send the essential message that King County taxpayers no longer accept Metro Transit's refusal to deal with its primary financial problem: excessive operating costs ... Sustainable transit requires real financial controls, not Metro's repeatedly broken promises. Please vote 'No' to save transit from Metro's ongoing mismanagement." One could use that statement verbatim to describe TransLink.
The April loss forced them to look harder for efficiencies -- something most taxpayers would welcome at the ever-wasteful TransLink.
In the aftermath of that defeat, King County Metro Transit claimed bus service cuts were on the way -- 16 per cent overall. One problem: those cuts were based on politics, not facts. Revenues had been steadily growing due to an improving economy, and in the end, they needed to cut just 4 per cent -- and accounting for plunging fuel prices, perhaps not even that much.
That didn't stop Seattle politicians from putting a misleading question on the Nov. 4 ballot, claiming the tax increases were needed to stave off more cuts in 2015 -- cuts that had already been cancelled. Further, unlike the earlier King County vote, the ballot explanation didn't include an opposing statement -- yet, even without opposition, nearly two out of every five voters said no.
A defeated April regional vote, overblown "cuts" that never happened, and a win on a ballot measure with no opposition? And this is the great shining hope for TransLink? Any port in a storm, one supposes.
Of course, TransLink apologists know precisely how unpopular their agency is, and how it already has revenue tools that other transit systems could only dream of. TransLink's 17 cents per litre gas tax, hydro levy, property tax, and parking tax led the independent transit commissioner to say that "TransLink's funding formula is the best in Canada." Hardly a ringing endorsement for giving them even more tax money to waste.
That's not to say TransLink couldn't learn some lessons from Seattle-area transit agencies -- just not the ones their blind supporters suggest.
TransLink could slash the pay of CEO Ian Jarvis in half and still pay him more than the Sound Transit CEO earns; this would send a tidal wave of desperately-needed fiscal responsibility through the executive suite. King County Metro also offers a very affordable and efficient vanpool program, saving taxpayers millions -- perhaps that's a model worth looking at. And unlike some TransLink mayors, Seattle has opened itself to Uber and other ride share programs to offer more transportation options rather than cash easy political donations from taxi companies.
Instead of focusing on ways to con the taxpayer into handing more money over via dodgy claims and ballot questions, TransLink apologists should focus on restoring public faith in their organization by addressing executive pay, delivering projects like Compass Card as promised, and curbing waste. That's something we can all vote in favour of.