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Response to Washington Policy Center's False Claims
The Truth About Washington State's Public Transit Funding
Recently the Washington Policy Center released a report titled, “Public Transit is not underfunded in Washington”. Here at Transportation Choices, we respectfully disagree with this bogus and ill-supported opinion. Below are the claims made in WPC’s report, followed by the facts.
Claim: There are 31 public transit agencies in Washington and they collected $2.05 billion in total revenues in 2010. To put this in perspective, in 2010 the state collected about the same amount ($2.09 billion) from the three major revenue categories (taxes, fees, and misc.) that fund the state’s entire transportation budget.
Truth. The 2011-13 biennial transportation budget is $9.04 billion, which is much larger than the cited $2.09 billion. (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Finance/budget/BudgetPieCharts.htm). Ennis is cherry picking just state gas tax and fees to make his number, while comparing it to the totality of all sources of revenue for transit including federal, local and all other sources.
Claim: In 2010, the 31 public transit agencies collected $1.23 billion in sales taxes, which is more than the entire state collects in gas tax revenue ($1.21 billion).
Truth. State gas tax revenue makes up less than a quarter of WSDOT’s total budget (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Finance/budget/BudgetPieCharts.htm). On the other hand, local sales tax makes up 70-75% of transit agencies’ entire budgets.
Claim: Collecting more than $2 billion in a year is remarkable considering how small public transit is compared to the state’s overall transportation system. Public transit agencies’ total market share is only about 2.4% of all daily person trip demand, statewide.
Truth. This is fuzzy math. He takes a real, local statistic (how many trips per year transit carries) and then compares it to a federal estimate of how many trips the ‘average’ American household takes. The truth is that over 40% of people who commute to downtown Seattle every day and 25% to downtown Bellevue are using Metro alone. And these trips are happening during rush hour, when traffic is at its worse.
Claim: Transit officials also claim sales tax revenue is volatile and unreliable as a consistent funding source, but public transit’s sales tax revenue has grown 150% in the last ten years, from $484 million in 2001 to $1.23 billion in 2010.
Truth. The truth is, sales tax is volatile. For King County Metro, in 2009, because of the recession, sales tax revenue dropped by nearly 14%. (http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/transportation/connect/20110719/transportation_needs.pdf) Page 28.
This is a double digit dip decrease over one year. That looks like the definition of volatile to me. Also keep in mind a lot of transit agencies went to increase their sales taxes about 10 years ago to replace lost MVET revenues. So the reason why sales tax revenue has grown? To make up for the underfunding of transit by the state.
“Statewide, local sales tax collections dropped by 11.6% (95M) between 2008 and 2010. Demand is peaking while revenues are dropping.” (WSDOT strategic investment study)
Claim: Since 2008, statewide transit ridership has fallen 4.5%, while operating expenses have risen 5%.
Truth. Ridership dipped in 2009 because of recession. That’s what happens when we have near double digit employment, less people go to work. However, over the last year, month over month, 2011 ridership has consistently beaten 2009 and 2010 ridership numbers as the recovery continues(slowly) and gas prices continue to rise(not so slowly). (http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/monthly-measures/ridership.html)
But who knows what will happen now that bus agencies have just implemented double digit service cuts in places such as Community and Pierce Transit.
Conclusion: The Washington Policy Center's claim that transit funding is adequate and does not need any additional investment is a myth, not a fact.
UPDATE (3/2): The Washington State Transit Association (WSTA) recently released a memo countering WPC's bogus claims that tells the real story behind transit funding in Washington State. Click here to read it.