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Originally published November 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2006 at 12:49 AM

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Election 2006

County tax for buses opens lead; mayor hopes street tax holds edge

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed transportation levy widened its lead early Wednesday and King County Executive Ron Sims' tax for buses...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed transportation levy widened its lead early Wednesday and King County Executive Ron Sims' tax for buses appeared to be headed for an easy victory.

"We like the trend. With each drop of the numbers, they're climbing in a good direction," said Andrew Glass Hastings, campaign manager for Seattle Proposition 1, the Bridging the Gap property tax.

Earlier, while the proposal was trailing among early absentee voters, Nickels had said he was "cautiously optimistic" it would pass.

Sims' Transit Now sales-tax proposal, gained a commanding lead by early Wednesday morning.

"I think it's a great election for transportation," said County Councilwoman Julia Patterson. "Next February we'll have more buses on the roads for the people of King County."

Nickels and Sims had put considerable political capital into their proposals.

Nickels promoted his $365 million, nine-year tax plan as a way to repair deteriorating streets and bridges and add bike lanes, sidewalks, road signs, traffic lights and other improvements. Without the tax, he said, the city would be unable to make significant progress on $500 million maintenance backlog.

The Seattle property-tax increase of 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the first year of the tax would cost the owner of a $400,000 house $144 next year.

Supporters included environmental and labor groups; bicycle, pedestrian and transit advocates; and development and construction companies.

Even though the City Council trimmed Nickels' original 20-year, $1.6 billion plan, it remained larger than two citizen advisory committees had recommended.

Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman said the close margin earlier Tuesday night showed elected officials "can't take Seattle voters for granted any more on tax increases." He and other opponents, including the Washington Policy Center, argued against using a levy to fund basic services.

The pro campaign raised more than $212,000; opponents raised $1,525 in non-cash contributions.

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King County Proposition 2 — Transit Now — would raise the sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent and would cost the typical household about $25 a year. It would give Metro $50 million next year to buy buses and increase service.

Supporters said the tax was needed so service could keep pace with population and economic growth in the next 10 years.

The Transit Now campaign, backed by labor, pro-transit and environmental groups, raised $170,000.

The opposition did no fundraising. Former state Rep. Will Knedlik and transportation consultant Bill Eager fought the tax, saying Metro didn't deliver the bus service it promised with a tax increase six years earlier. (Metro said it couldn't keep its promise because of an unexpected drop in sales-tax collections.)

Transit Now would transform five heavily used routes into "bus rapid transit," Metro says, by using high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and bringing a bus to each stop at least once every 10 minutes.

Those routes are Aurora Avenue North from Shoreline to downtown Seattle; West Seattle to downtown; Ballard to the stadium district; Bellevue to Redmond; and Federal Way to Tukwila along Pacific Highway South.

Transit Now also would boost service on 30 other routes, mostly in the suburbs; extend or add routes in growing areas; and increase van-pooling and service for disabled persons.

Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore contributed to this report. Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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