|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Friday, July 23, 2004 - Page updated at 02:17 A.M.
County eyes tax boost for road projects
By Susan Gilmore
The initiative, approved by voters in 2002, eliminated a $15 vehicle license fee imposed in King and Pierce Counties and used for road projects.
Without it, say county officials, roads are in a crisis.
"The $15 rebate was a big hit," said Harold Taniguchi, director of the county's Department of Transportation who is organizing the effort to explore a tax package. "We want to see what we can do to help find the revenue to supplement what we lost."
The county is considering two taxes, a 2.8-cents-a-gallon increase in the county gas tax to pay for county roads and an increase of one tenth of 1 percent in the sales tax for Metro.
The tax measure would have to be put on the ballot by the King County Council by Sept. 7.
King County Executive Ron Sims still hasn't decided whether he will recommend the tax package, but he asked Taniguchi to look into it, said his spokeswoman Elaine Kraft.
Over the past two months, top county transportation officials have been meeting with transportation planners from cities throughout the county.
"We wanted to take a look at the needs," said Kraft. "All the local governments are in this mess together."
Losing the $15 vehicle-licensing fee cost King County alone $112 million in transportation projects, said King County Council President Larry Phillips. "You can't ask us to do more projects with less money," he said.
Losing the vehicle-license fee will cost the cities in the county, and unincorporated King County, $18 million a year. Seattle alone is losing $5.3 million a year.
The state gas tax is now 28 cents, but the county has the authority to raise it 10 percent, or 2.8 cents, which would make it 30.8 cents a gallon in King County.
King County voters in 2000 approved Proposition 1, which raised the sales tax two tenths of a percent to fund transit, but the county has the authority to raise it another one-tenth for Metro. That could be included in the ballot measure. It would raise about $40 million a year, said Ron Posthuma, the county transportation department's assistant director.
He said both taxes would cost the average King County household $42 a year.
Part of what's fueling a possible November tax package is the decision in June by the Regional Transportation Investment District to abandon its plans to put a multibillion-dollar roads-and-transit package on the November ballot.
While the county package would finance local projects not included in RTID, officials said they would have been reluctant to impose two heavy tax packages on voters.
Already there's a $1 billion education tax package on the ballot that would add a penny to the sales tax to raise money for everything from preschool programs to college scholarships.
King County Councilman Dwight Pelz said he is interested in raising the gas tax but has not been convinced it's the right time to raise the sales tax for Metro, particularly with the state education initiative also asking for a sale-tax increase.
"People understand the issues about roads, but I don't think the table is set enough for Metro Transit," Pelz said.
Linda Dougherty, roads division director for the county, said the county had planned to sell $80 million in bonds for road projects which it can't do with the loss of the vehicle-license fees.
Specifically, she said, the new taxes would be used to widen the Coal Creek Parkway, an $11 million project; improve an intersection at 140th Avenue Southeast on the north end of the Soos Creek Plateau; improve signals on the Juanita-Woodinville Road; and upgrade signals on Des Moines Memorial Drive.
When the state Legislature imposed a nickel-a-gallon gas-tax increase last year, local jurisdictions received nothing, said the county officials considering the tax package.
Further, they said, in 1995 the State Supreme Court ruled the street-utility fee was unconstitutional, a huge hit for many cities in the county.
Money from the proposed new taxes would go to arterial streets, not such megaprojects as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. County officials say almost half of vehicle miles driven in the afternoon peak commute are on arterials and over half the delays experienced on roads in King County are on arterials.
Another reason the county is considering a November tax package is that it's a presidential election year, certain to draw younger voters who may be more willing to pay higher taxes for roads, said Posthuma.
He said Metro has been hurt by the economic slowdown. As people lost their jobs, they stopped riding the bus and spending money to add to sales taxes, he said. At least two-thirds of Metro's budget is generated by the sales tax, so it was a huge hit, he said.
With existing revenues, between now and 2012, Metro would only be able to increase service about 4 percent, but if the one-tenth-of-a-percent sales tax were added it could grow 12 percent, Posthuma said.
The county still hasn't decided whether to push forward with the ballot measure, but Tim Ceis, Seattle deputy mayor, said the city believes it's a good idea.
"Our local road-funding situation is pretty dire," he said. "In 1995, we had $36 million in dedicated transportation revenues; in 2004 it was about $12 million. That's a big problem for the city of Seattle."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top