Suburbs may play key role in Metro tax vote
The Kirkland City Council backs the proposed sales-tax increase and car-tab fee for transit, transportation and road projects. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure.
Seattle Times staff reporter
King County Proposition 1
Car-tab fee: $60 per vehicle, estimated to raise $80 million a year.
Sales tax: A tenth-of-a-cent increase in sales tax, estimated to raise $50 million a year
Help for low income: A reduced fare of $1.25 for low-income riders and a $20 car-tab rebate for low-income car owners
Where money would go: 60 percent to Metro Transit for bus service; 40 percent to fund roads and other transportation needs in cities and unincorporated King County.
Completed ballots must be postmarked by April 22.
A thumbs-up from the Kirkland City Council and a thumbs-down from the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce speak to the important role suburban voters could play in the fate of Metro’s Proposition 1 on the April 22 ballot.
The actions came last week as ballots were mailed out on the proposal that includes a sales-tax increase and car-tab fee for transit, transportation and road projects.
“We know how important the transit system is and we need to do our part,” Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen said of the 6-1 council resolution supporting the measure.
Walen said the 17 percent service cut Metro says it would need to make if the measure fails would be “intolerable in our community,” cutting — among other things — night and weekend service to the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
She’s among 20 mayors in King County the measure’s backers cite as supporting Proposition 1.
The measure would add a tenth of a cent to the sales tax in King County (currently 9.5 percent in most areas) and set an annual car-tab fee of $60 to maintain Metro Transit service at current levels and to help fund road and transportation projects throughout the county. Both would run 10 years.
A $20 car-tab fee authorized two years ago ends in June, so motorists would see a net increase in their annual car-tab fee of $40.
The county estimates the measure would cost the average household about $11 a month.
The Bellevue chamber based its opposition partly on concern that funding Metro in this way represents a piecemeal approach and could further jeopardize a statewide transportation solution that could include the needs of Highway 520 and Interstate 405. Attempts in the Legislature this year to gain agreement on a larger transportation package failed.
Tom Sulewski, chamber chairman, said, “Proposition 1 ... hurts our No. 1 public-policy priority, which is a statewide transportation package anchored by a gas tax.”
In its news release on the issue, the chamber said, “Business leaders recommend Metro operate sustainably and more like a business to get costs in line with revenue.”
In contrast, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the proposition, with chamber CEO Maud Daudon calling transit “a critical engine for our region’s economic vitality.”
Transit measures typically receive stronger support in Seattle than in the suburbs.
April Putney, campaign manager for Move King County Now, supporting the measure, said 43 percent of daily commuters to downtown Seattle use transit, compared with 17 percent of those who commute daily to downtown Bellevue,
The last Metro transit tax vote, “Transit Now” in 2006, drew 69 percent support in Seattle, and 55 to 57 percent in major Eastside cities. Putney said even though the Eastside’s percentage of yes votes was lower than Seattle’s, 55 percent favoring a tax increase is a significant majority.
That measure got less than 50 percent of the vote in a number of South King County cities, including Kent, Renton, Auburn and Federal Way. Countywide, it passed with 57 percent approval.
“Transit Now” featured a tenth-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax intended to boost transit service 20 percent over 10 years. But after 2009, with the recession continuing to cut sales-tax revenues, most elements of the Transit Now program were suspended, according to Metro.
That has fed Metro’s critics’ contention that the agency can’t be trusted to deliver the services it promises.
The current proposal would raise an estimated $130 million a year, with about $80 million going to maintain Metro transit service at current levels. The rest would go to cities for road and transportation projects.
Backers have drawn the most visible support to date, with nearly 250 groups and leaders signing on as supporters, including representatives of business, labor, education, government, environmental and social services.
A newer website by opponents, Families for Sustainable Transit, on Friday listed seven entities opposing the measure.
“Metro has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” the site says.
The proponents’ long list of endorsements does not impress Dick Paylor, of Eastside Transportation Association, which is against Proposition 1.
He said backers are “largely focused on the low-hanging bus-rider votes in Seattle and the union crowd.”
Paylor said County Executive Dow Constantine and Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips intentionally put the issue on “an April ballot date with a certain low voter turnout,” when it would get minimal attention.
On Friday, Constantine called that assertion “nonsense,” saying the reason he didn’t pursue putting it on last fall’s ballot was to give the Legislature time to act on a state transportation package. “But as you know, the Legislature failed,” he said.
In Bellevue, Mayor Claudia Balducci favors the measure while Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace opposes it.
Staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this report. Jack Broom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2222