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May 12, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Seattle voters could see a car-tab fee for transit

UPDATE, 4:51 p.m.:  King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new program today that would let cities, employers, or other institutions buy bus service hours, by signing “Community Mobility Contracts.”

Cities such as Seattle could either pay for buses that are on the chopping block due to a Metro budget shortfall; add service to crowded routes; or buy bus service in other areas to promote economic development, he said.

Constantine said he’s “agnostic” about what tax sources Seattle might use to protect or gain bus service.  He hopes officials will ally to fund buses that carry workers between cities.

A buy-in program might cause inequities, in which wealthier communities or companies get more service while others suffer cuts. Constantine said he’s aware of this, but adds: “the alternative at this point is to cut all transit everywhere.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is scheduled to make an announcement at 9 a.m Tuesday, when he likely will propose car-fee and sales taxes to be collected with in the city.

Service costs range from $124 to $172 per hour, depending on the schedules and vehicle types, in an older wave of contracts in which cities and employers pay one-third and Metro covers two-thirds.

ORIGINAL POST:

Momentum is building to send Seattle voters another ballot measure for transit taxes. This could be a rerun of the car-tab fee and sales tax increases that suburban voters torpedoed last month in King County’s Proposition 1.

County Executive Dow Constantine is scheduled to make an announcement this afternoon, followed by an expected speech by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Tuesday.

Murray and some Seattle City Council members are leaning toward simply asking the voters within the city limits to pass a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 annual car-tab fee, said Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Tom Rasmussen.

“The reason I would consider it the most promising option is it’s already been tested with the voters — they approved it,” Rasmussen said. Post-election data showed that a solid majority of voters within Seattle said “yes” to Proposition 1, which would have raised money for both Metro Transit and street funds.

Another scenario is Initiative 118, a proposal by transit activist Ben Schiendelman to increase property taxes by $22 per $100,000 of value, to buy Metro service hours within the city. Metro has begun planning for a countywide cut of 16 percent, starting with low-use routes, to be phased in through September 2014.  I-118 has suspended signature gathering because of recent moves by elected leaders.

O’Brien said he’s keeping an open mind as to which source to use, pending public comments or hearings. He emphasized the council is expected to renew Bridging the Gap property taxes in 2015 for street uses, and those could include some bus service, as the city already does with a fraction of Bridging the Gap taxes voters passed in 2006. So that would be a reason to favor non-property taxes this year, he said. The vehicle license fee seems to be the most favored idea in the council offices right now, he said.

“My number one goal is to make sure we put something to the voters that can kind of close that gap, on transit,” he said.

Murray last week criticized the notion of Seattle acting as a “Lone Ranger” through city-only funding. O’Brien said he hopes to avert Metro cuts at least within Seattle, until a regional solution is found for the whole county.

Comments | More in General news, Traffic & Transit | Topics: car tabs, Dow Constantine, Ed Murray

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