In November Pierce County voters chose not to approve a three-tenths of one percent sales tax hike that would have allowed Pierce Transit to maintain current bus service in the state's second most-populous county. At the time, Pierce Transit officials said failing to approve such a tax hike would result in drastic cuts to service hours offered - to the tune of a 53-percent reduction.
And today, as noted by Steve Maynard of The News Tribune in Tacoma over the weekend, those same Pierce Transit officials will begin the process of deciding whether these cuts will begin this summer or can be put off until February 2014.
Only, apparently they won't be as drastic as once predicted.
As the Trib reports, the good news for those dependent on bus service in Tacoma and throughout Pierce County is projections of a 53-percent reduction appear to have been off, and the cuts will likely be closer to 34 to 36 percent.
Of course, that's still a substantial cut, but things could have been worse.
As the Trib reports:
Regardless of the timing, the cutbacks won't be as drastic as what the agency had projected in mailers sent to voters before the Nov. 6 election. Pierce Transit said in those cards that annual service hours would be reduced by 53 percent if voters failed to approve an additional three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax.
Now officials say they could limit the cuts to 34 percent in September, or 36 percent if they wait until early next year. It was unclear Friday what the savings would be if they start some cuts in June.
Under any scenario, the agency says:
• Weekend and holiday service will be eliminated, as projected before the election.
• Weekday evening service after 7 p.m. will be reduced but not entirely eliminated as was stated in the mailers.
• On most routes, mid-day service or peak-hour service won't be cut as severely as predicted.
What is this new, slightly more rosy outlook attributed to? Pierce Transit officials say sales tax revenue projections have improved since the numbers that produced the 53-percent reduction prediction were crunched, and concessions made by the transit union in a recent contract negotiation further brightened the forecast.
More from the Trib:
The 53-percent service cut estimate emerged in mid-August. Erickson said transit staff made the calculation at that time to meet a Sept. 11 printing deadline. The agency used the information in "fact pieces" that were placed on buses and distributed at transit meetings in September. Those same cards were mailed to registered voters in mid-October.
A different projection in the Pierce County voters pamphlet turned out to be more accurate. Based on an earlier calculation that Pierce Transit submitted Aug. 7, the pamphlet said the agency would make cuts "in excess of 35 percent" if the tax proposal failed. The pamphlets also went out to voters in mid-October.
Pierce Transit Chief Executive Officer Lynne Griffith said the agency didn't consider doing another calculation before the election, in part because it takes a week of staff time.
Although Griffith tells the Trib that Pierce Transit was never attempting to mislead anyone, for Nick Sherwood, the man who led the successful campaign against the proposed sales tax hike, those words ring hollow.
"Fifty-three percent was never an honest calculation," Sherwood told the paper. "Things didn't change that drastically. They're overplaying the change."
Whether Pierce Transit is "overplaying the change" or not, a 34- or 36-percent reduction in service is still a sizable one, and one that will be felt by the multitudes of bus riders in Pierce County.
"They're still very deep cuts. ... It's not a desirable situation if you're a transit rider," Griffith tells the Trib.