Seattle mayor opposes push to raise city property taxes for transit, will offer own plan
Mayor Ed Murray opposes a Seattle-only initiative to raise property taxes for bus service, and plans to offer his own funding proposal next week.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Mayor Ed Murray stated his opposition Thursday to a Seattle-only initiative to raise property taxes for bus service, saying a regional funding solution is needed and not a go-it-alone approach.
“Any transit financing plan — either short-term or long-term — must reflect the reality that Seattle’s economy depends on people coming into the city from throughout the Puget Sound region,” Murray said in a statement.
Murray’s comments, and a promise to offer his own funding proposal next week, follow last week’s filing of Initiative 118 by transit activist Ben Schiendelman.
The measure, dubbed “Keep Seattle Moving,” is Schiendelman’s response to county voters’ rejection last month of a countywide sales-tax and car-tab increase to prevent King County Metro Transit cuts and boost city and county street funds.
Supporters of I-118 must collect 20,638 voter signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.
Schiendelman ran his effort apart from County Executive Dow Constantine, who had urged voters to pass the countywide tax.
Murray has been calling local officials to explain his misgivings about the initiative. The mayor said Thursday he didn’t specifically ask anyone to withdraw an endorsement.
Still, the names of two of the eight Seattle lawmakers listed Tuesday as I-118 endorsers, state Sen. Adam Kline and state Rep. Eileen Cody, by Thursday had been removed from the campaign’s website .
Cody said she initially endorsed I-118 because of looming cuts in West Seattle, where proposed reroutes would force riders from High Point to transfer between buses more often. Then she unendorsed.
“I got a message from Ed — he and Dow were working on another option, and give them some time,” Cody said.
In an interview Thursday, Murray said he hadn’t yet chosen specific revenues that could be used to help Metro.
“We’re looking at alternatives,” he said, adding that a proposal could involve a short-term shift of money already in the city transportation budget.
“We’re going to be methodical about what works,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t get crosswise with the county. We’re going to do this right.”
Likewise, Murray’s statement emphasized the need for cooperation with the county: “We must be careful in our approach here: Seattle as the Lone Ranger on transit risks the Balkanization of Metro and, to some extent, the isolation of our city from the surrounding region.”
Before filing I-118, Schiendelman said that if his efforts prodded elected officials to find another source of transit funding, that would be fine.
Schiendelman said he has not spoken with Murray, but that on Thursday he met with the mayor’s transportation adviser, Andrew Glass Hastings, and chief of staff Chris Gregorich.
“We’ve had a huge victory today,” Schiendelman said. “We’ve been successful as a forcing function. Ed Murray and the City Council have to come up with a plan that they can support.”
He said I-118 volunteers have collected hundreds of signatures, and a campaign kickoff was planned at a downtown grill Thursday night.
“We plan to keep the pressure on,” Schiendelman said.
If nothing better emerges, Cody said she reserves the right to re-endorse I-118. She shares the widespread doubt that Olympia will offer the county or city better solutions by 2015.
The initiative calls for a tax increase of $22 per $100,000 of property value. The county’s losing Proposition 1 (which won a majority among Seattle voters) called for sales-tax and car-fee increases, with the revenues to be divided between buses and roads.
Endorsers include state Reps. Cindy Ryu, Joe Fitzgibbon, Gael Tarleton, Eric Pettigrew, Jessyn Farrell, and Gerry Pollet, as well as former Mayor Mike McGinn, the Sierra Club and Seattle Transit Riders Union.
As for increasing the property tax, Murray said city voters already have signed on to a tax for a new seawall, and likely will see measures to increase the parks levy, pay for preschool, and build low-income housing while renewing the Bridging the Gap transportation levy at a higher rate.
“It is no longer an infinite resource,” Murray said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom