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Originally published September 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 6, 2008 at 11:48 AM

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Reject Proposition 1's tax for light-rail expansion

Sound Transit's Proposition 1 to expand the light-rail system would raise the sales tax but provide little immediate relief to existing transit demand.

The Sound Transit tax increase, Proposition 1, is a bad proposal. We opposed the same tax a year ago and do so again.

First, it is too much. Half a cent on the sales tax adds up to a 9.5-percent tax in Seattle and about that much systemwide. That would be one of the highest sales taxes in the United States. It says: "Don't spend your money here." It retards our economy. It hurts the poor.

Proposition 1 is being marketed as the solution to an immediate need. Salesmen have made up phrases like "immediately increase buses," "immediate solutions to relieve gridlock" and their favorite, "Transit Now."

But with Proposition 1, what you get is a Tax Now — a tax that goes to 9.5 percent Jan. 1. A few buses and commuter trains come soon, but most of your money would go to light rail not fully open to you until the 2020s. It is not "Transit Now."

This bias against helping people now is why King County Executive Ron Sims argued to keep Proposition 1 off the ballot. As head of the government that owns Metro, the transit agency struggling to meet existing need, he didn't want to wait until the 2020s.

Then the sales pitch shifts. The salesmen admit light rail is not about now. It's about the future. It's about getting people out of their cars.

This is an improbable view of the future. Most people don't want to get out of their cars. As the world changes, they may buy cars that burn fuel from tar sands, canola, algae or wood chips. They may have electric batteries charged by power from the sun, the wind, nuclear reaction or the heat of the Earth.

But most will have their own wheels because they have their own places to go.

No doubt, more people will take transit. But they will demand service over a wide area — and a price they can afford. Wide and cheap. A spider web of service.

In King County, that's Metro: It costs 0.9 cents of tax on every dollar and has buses that go to more than 9,000 stops.

If Proposition 1 passes, on every dollar you will be paying another 0.9 cents (the new 0.5 cents plus the existing 0.4 cents) to Sound Transit. The map of light rail in the mid-2020s will not be a spider web, but a simple "T." It will have a few stops at hugely expensive stations.

Eyeball the station on Highway 99 at SeaTac. It is a monument — to something. But it is still one transit stop.

Buses have their drawbacks: They can get stuck in traffic. But they can be unstuck with bus lanes. More bus lanes are coming — on Aurora Avenue, Northwest 15th Avenue in Seattle and on the proposed Highway 520 bridge.

Buses are cheaper than rail and more flexible. Proposition 1 slights them: The two center lanes on the Interstate 90 bridge, which now serve buses and Mercer Islanders, become rail-only. Buses are kicked out. Buses will also be kicked out of Seattle's downtown transit tunnel.

Finally, it is said that Proposition 1 is not about us, but our grandchildren. So it is. It is a proposal to extend two costly rail lines and to oblige our grandchildren to pay for them. The sales tax is raised to 9.5 percent. It is a lot, and it goes on for a very long time.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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