February 19, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 8

News

In bid to stave off cuts to bus service, County Council takes step toward sales tax initiative

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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The King County Council unanimously approved legislation creating a Transportation Benefit District, a separate taxing district that generates revenue to pay for transit, roads and other transportation projects.

The Feb. 10 approval is the first step toward proposing a ballot initiative asking voters to increase sales tax rates to prevent deep cuts to bus services this fall.

The Transportation Benefit District could also help fill $50 million annual gap for county road maintenance.

King County Metro announced in 2013 that it had a shortfall of $75 million and would need to eliminate 74 routes and reduce or revise 107 routes to break even.

The Transportation Benefit District could prevent those cuts if voters agree to a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 annual vehicle license fee.

If passed, the sales tax and fees would create about $130 million to fund Metro.

Metro fares would be also be increased by 25 cents for standard adult fares starting in March of 2015. The increased fare would add $6.6 million to Metro’s budget annually.

The King County Council is simultaneously considering legislation that would create a low-income fare for people making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $23,000 annually for a single adult.

Ballots for the April special election go out April 4 and are due for counting on April 22.

Metro took a hit when sales tax revenue plummeted with the recession in 2008. The agency has been seeking new funding streams since.

Between 2008 and 2013, the agency increased the one-zone, non-peak fare from $1.25 to $2.25.

In 2012, the King County Council enacted a $20 increase in car tab renewals to help offset the transit agency’s deficit.

The fee expires this fall, when Metro plans to institute the 17 percent service cuts.

Lawmakers in Olympia did not pass any additional funding for Metro, so local lawmakers decided to turn to King County taxpayers.

The King County Council has not yet approved the ballot initiative asking voters for the sales tax increase. The council needs to pass a proposal by the week of March 3 to make it onto the April ballot.

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