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Constantine: Time Running Out for State to Save Metro Services

King County Metro Transit's Facebook Page

King County will take its own measures to save Metro Transit services if the state Legislature fails to pass a transportation package in time, said King County Executive Dow Constantine on Thursday.

“Let me be clear: this is not our first choice,” Constantine said of taking local measures.

But time is running out for state lawmakers to act, he said; the Legislature on Thursday missed its target day to take up a statewide transportation package. 

"It's not happening," Constantine said. 

The county’s preference is a statewide approach, more specifically a motor vehicle excise tax that only the state Legislature can authorize, the executive said. The county wants the state legislation to include an emergency clause that will allow voters to weigh in on the issue early next year as Metro’s current funding is expected to run out in June.

“We cannot wait until 2015,” said Constantine. “The sooner we get the question to the voters, the sooner we’ll know we’ll have the funding.”

If the state fails to act in the coming days, Constantine said the county will develop its own legislation involving sales tax and a flat annual vehicle fee to put before voters next year. This option is imperfect as it would leave several state project in King County unfunded, but it will minimize Metro cuts, he said. 

“People of King County cannot be held hostage,” said King County Council member Larry Phillips, who chairs the council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. 

Without a new source of funding in place in time, Phillips said the county would be forced to make “draconian cuts” to service. Metro has said 74 routes would be eliminated, and 107 additional routes would be changed.

Constantine said the county recently reached a tentative cost-cutting agreement with the union representing King County Metro’s bus drivers. The three-year deal calls for a wage freeze in the first year, followed by 2-percent wage bumps in each of the following years.