TriMet’s ongoing financial travails are well-known, including the unwillingness of its largest union to reduce future spending by having its members pay more for health insurance. But even though TriMet reduced service during the Great Recession to make ends meet, its problems have been nothing like those facing the transit system called Metro in Seattle.

Metro’s problems started in 1999 when Washington voters approved Initiative 695, which wiped away a vehicle excise tax that gave the King County system about one-third of its revenue. Since then, voters have increased the sales tax twice to keep the system viable. Seattle Metro also got a temporary $20 car tax in 2012. Even so, the agency cut more than 100 staff positions, raised fares four times, and reduced reserve funds from 2009 through 2013.

Now Metro is facing even more service cuts after voters rejected Proposition 1, another sales and car tax measure, in April. Although existing sales tax revenues that support Seattle’s Metro are increasing as the economy recovers, the agency says it is facing a crisis. In the meantime, TriMet is restoring many of the cuts it made over the last few years, including those made to its heavily used frequent service lines.

This could get expensive

Mayor Charlie Hales has dared anyone to prove any money in his budgets have been illegally spent. If so, Hales has promised to pay that person $10 in the presence of a TV reporter.

That would actually be getting off cheap, however. Oregon law makes public officials who illegally spend public money personally liable to repay it. Oregon Revised Statute 294.100 allows a suit requiring the repayment to be filed by any taxpayer or district attorney in the jurisdiction where the misspending occurred.

According to the law, the illegal spending would have to constitute malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty. Still, the price of conviction could be a lot more than $10.

Ratepayer lawsuit drags on

Two examples of illegal city spending already have emerged from the ongoing lawsuit over misspent water and sewer ratepayer money. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Bushong has declared the City Charter did not authorize the City Council to spend water funds on the Portland Loos and water and sewer funds on the former public campaign financing program. Hales did not include ratepayer funds for either of those purposes in his annual budgets, however.

But dozens of other programs are still being challenged in the lawsuit, and some of them include ratepayer funds in Hales’ budgets. They include sewer funds being spent on the Portland Harbor Superfund, which has already amounted to millions of dollars.

Even if Bushong eventually rules that some of that spending was illegal, it will be hard to prove Hales or anyone else on the council intentionally did wrong. The city attorney’s office is defending all of the spending as legal under the charter.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine