Light rail can wait
Sound Transit's board is on the verge of putting a measure on the November ballot to increase the general sales tax by half a point, to 9.5 percent, and at restaurants to 10 percent.
Sound Transit's board is on the verge of putting a measure on the November ballot to increase the general sales tax by half a point, to 9.5 percent, and at restaurants to 10 percent. Such a big increase in this already-high tax is not advisable now.
The economy is faltering. State government faces a budget deficit. King County faces a budget deficit. The region has big transportation projects on the table, starting with replacing the Highway 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Voters already spoke about a big tax package. Last fall, they turned down a measure to sharply raise taxes for light rail and roads. Sound Transit's directors are apparently under the delusion that with $4 gas, if they take the roads out, voters will say yes. Perhaps, though they might say yes for a mix of transit less-biased toward rail.
Compare rail with buses. The bus agencies in Sound Transit's taxing district — King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Community Transit and Everett Transit — together have 477,000 boardings a day. The section of light-rail line being built by Sound Transit is supposed to have 45,000 boardings a day. That is less than one-tenth the bus figure.
For actual bus service, Metro charges an 0.9 percent sales tax. For promised light-rail service, Sound Transit has been charging 0.4 percent. You can move many, many more people for the money on buses than on rail.
Yet the proposal is to raise local taxes largely for rail, so that Sound Transit will have the same rate of sales tax as King County Metro's rate.
Think of all the places buses go — in all three counties — and look at the map of where light rail will go, twenty years from now. Light rail is two strands, in the shape of a T. Bus service is a spider web.
Maybe the voters of central Puget Sound will decide to pony up for light rail simply because they like it. If that is the hope, then let's wait until they have a chance to try it.
Let them off the hook this November.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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