October 18, 2012
Pierce County Transit is seeking a sales tax increase to restore cuts to service it says are necessitated by the economic downturn. Northwest Now will hear from both sides of the issue in an effort to help Pierce County voters learn more about Pierce Transit and what the implications of the measure's passage or failure will be.
Program will be available immediately after broadcast.
The battle over Prop 1 is a battle over the interpretation of statistics in many instances. In particular, Pierce Transit takes issue with the way the opponents of Prop 1 interpret two sets of numbers.
The first set of numbers considers total revenue. Opponents of Prop 1 take all the revenue, add it together and come up with their figures. Those figures are reported by Pierce Transit, but the agency says it's important to consider the amount of the budget that is paid by Sound Transit. Pierce Transit provides Sound Transit services on a contract. In 2011 as an example, Pierce Transit's total revenues were $124.5 million. But $30.3 million, or 24%, came from Sound Transit for use solely to provide Sound Transit services. The opponents use the big number. Pierce Transit thinks $124.5 million less Sound Transit's $30.3 million is a more accurate number. Using this method, Sound Transit was about 14% of the budget in 2003, and is now 24% of the Pierce Transit budget. This information is on page 58 of the 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, found here: http://www.piercetransit.org/budget/2011-CAFR.pdf. Pierce Transit also points out that 2010 and 2011 look better than they might have otherwise because several one-time sales of assets are included in the revenue report.
The other set of numbers involves the cost per employee. The opponents put the average cost per employee at almost $94,000 when all wages and benefits are included. Pierce Transit however says a couple of things have to be considered. When layoffs occurred, junior workers left the agency leaving fewer, but higher paid workers on average. The agency also says that the CAFR's reporting requirements only allow a snapshot of the body count on December 31st of every year which means that certain wages, severance packages, unemployment benefits, vacation payouts, and sick time payouts are on the year's books even if the employees are no longer at work.
Pierce Transit submitted its new data the day this program aired in this statement: “The calculation presented by some of the opponents of Prop 1 have been using an employee average compensation of $93,545. This is based on 2011 wages and benefits of $82,413,780 and 881 employees. This number includes the costs of contract employees (such as off-duty police officers) and the cost of laid off employees. This is not appropriate because neither of the groups are included in the year end employee count. We recalculated average 2011 compensation taking out contract wages and benefits and adding laid off employees to the employee count up from 881 to 994. These are not all the factors in play but these are the ones we can quickly account for. The adjusted average 2011 compensation is then $80,553.”
As a result of this discussion on Prop 1, and it has been a robust one, Northwest Now has now implemented a policy that requires one side of an issue to share its numbers with the other if those numbers are going to be brought into the discussion. The opponents of Prop 1 have published their figures widely, and they are supported in the agency's CAFR. But not every board member or stakeholder who might be involved in the discussion on KBTC was necessarily aware of them. Because of that, Northwest Now will take the extra step of making sure that if a disputed issue is going to be discussed, numbers to be cited in the arguments will be shared.
Local, regional and interest-group politics are deeply involved in this issue. The reception Pierce Transit management got at the Puyallup open house was very mixed with some riders and disabled people speaking about their need for service, and others questioning how decisions were made about the transit district's map and whether the agency's long term record of decision making is more focused on managing costs or bending to the wishes of political, corporate or agency insiders.