King County Enacts Transportation Benefit District

One of the reasons that Gov. Gregoire vetoed a $20 vehicle license fee for transit last year was that counties already could create transportation benefit districts to levy a similar fee.  However, such a district requires support of 60% of municipal governments comprising at least 75% of the County’s population, although there is no public vote.

On November 3rd of last year Executive Triplett sent a letter to municipalities asking for cities to express support for such a countywide TBD by November 18th.  The legislation itself claims that no cities responded affirmatively, while several directly declined.

Given the lack of positive response, the County Council voted 8-0 (Constantine’s seat is unfilled) yesterday to go ahead with a TBD in the unincorporated areas of King County, though the bill does not yet impose the $20 fee.  The funding would go to a variety of projects (Excel file).  Many are road projects (including the structurally unsound South Park Bridge), but there are quite a few sidewalk and bike lane improvements.  However, as one might expect there isn’t much in the way of relief for Metro in this measure.

Other documents related to this measure are here.

In other news, the Council approved their legislative agenda, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

(H/T: Mickymse)

Comments

  1. Tim Whittome says

    It doesn’t help much but I am at last in the Sound Transit taxing district so was quite happy recently to pay my sacrificial offering through the Department of Licesing – along with my Washington State Parks plate and additional park fees.

    I will be writing to Rep. Clibborn to ask if she can sponsor a bill so that folks outside of the ST taxing district can opt in to paying for it. There must be lots of folks in outlying areas who park at Issaquah and take the 554 into Seattle or the 555/556 to the U-District via Bellevue. Kind of like paying or not paying for NPR service when you listen to it every day.

  2. Bruce says

    Tim, be careful in what you do. I’d disagree that folks will “opt in” to another tax (something about human nature…) and the transaction cost of creating customized vehicle tab fees might be expensive.

    Maybe just a box to check to add a flat fee, rather than requiring a calculation to determine your exact fee.

    That said, you may be a very lonely person opting in…why not just through the fee into the fairbox?

    • Tim Whittome says

      Well if more folks subscribed to NPR who listen to it, then we wouldn’t have interminable pledge drives twice a year, but throwing in a fee into the fairbox might work, but paying by cash is fast disappearing from how we pay for our public transportation.

      Yes, I was envisaging a flat ‘opt-in’ rate for those interested or capable of being shamed into so doing – we did this with the parks.

      I am just thinking of ways to raise revenue for a beleaguered system and the ST taxing district area is one such that we need to look at.

      I’d be in favor of dozens of opt-in boxes for all of the beleaguered revenue-strapped services we have in the area. Like our federal tax returns, our license fees are something we have to do every year. Right now, we have a revenue gap to support the services and projects we all like in Washington State.

      My proposed opt-in tax/fee isn’t supposed to be popular in an emotional sense, just in a financial one.

      • aw says

        Well, I live outside the district, but I opt in when I pay the sales tax. I could argue that I’m taxed without being represented, but as long as folks voted to support ST2 and Sound Move (which I did vote for), I don’t have a problem with it.

      • Tim Whittome says

        Well paying taxes for things we don’t personally use is all part of living in a community, and part of the overall social benefits of the thing itself. For example, I am not likely to ever use the proposed North Spokane bypass, but I have no objection through my sales taxes or other revenue sources to chipping in to help pay for it. Spokane would expect no less from us western Washingtonians just as we ask them to help us pay for our mega projects.

  3. misha says

    Put a levy on the ballot. People will vote for it. Our conservative representatives won’t do a thing to help transit unless we make them. Every single large city on the west coast has voted for higher taxes to pay for more transit. Seattle has done the absolute least, even counting the ridiculously slow ST2.1. Salt Lake City votes for higher taxes to build 4 new light rail lines within 10 years – we can do it too, with even higher percentages. Just put it on the freakin ballot.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Well Misha,

      If you mean a State initiative, it’ll go down in flames.

      If you don’t mean a State initiative, then you’re stuck with whatever taxing authority the State gives you. That’s the main reason ST2 is “ridiculously slow”, as you put it.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      misha, I just want to echo Martin. The state has to give us the *authority* to go to ballot with a levy before we can do it. The legislature tried last year with TBDs, but Gregoire vetoed it.

      • Chris Stefan says

        The city does have some unused taxing authority in the form of the $100 MVET fee and the property tax. However the MVET fee won’t raise that much money and I’m not sure a property tax levy is the right way to fund transit. The property tax has the further problem of cutting into the ability to fund other things like parks where the property tax really is the only funding mechanism available.

        I’ve had some people tell me another option would be to use the MVET taxing authority that was created for the Monorail. However I’m unclear on the legality of the city using that taxing authority. The good news is it discourages car ownership and hits those with new and expensive vehicles the hardest.

        But Ben and Martin are right, the main issue preventing non-road transportation improvements in the Central Puget Sound region is the lack of taxing authority.

        Two potential sources of tax revenue I’ve seen mentioned are a general sales tax on fuel and restoring the MVET to pre-I695 levels. The danger is the state is looking to these sources of revenue to cover shortfalls in fuel excise tax and/or general fund revenue. If either (or both) of these taxes are enacted as either a statewide tax or as a local option tax the law should at the very least restrict them to transportation uses the fuel excise tax can’t pay for.

        One nifty thing the state could possibly do with some (or all) of the revenue would be to create a capital project fund similar to the FTA grant system with funds awarded based on merit. Again this should probably be restricted to non-road transportation projects the fuel excise tax can’t legally fund.

  4. says

    Every single large city on the west coast has voted for higher taxes to pay for more transit.

    I’d be interested in seeing a citation on that. At any rate, I’ve already voiced my disagreement with Martin on this idea that Seattle in particular will vote for any revenue increase unless it’s a new monorail. My belief is that the current economic climate, mixed reviews on the SLUS and Link (deserved or not) and a general close-to-the-pocketbook sentiment all over the region (including Seattle) does NOT make a levy vote – even in Seattle – a sure thing by any stretch.

    I’d advise those interested in having such a measure on the ballot, or supporting McGinn’s coming initiatives in that regard not to get too complacent on the potential for the currently economically hammered electorate to NOT vote away more of their dollars.

    • Lloyd says

      Right-o, Jeff – we truly should wait until 2012 for a city-wide streetcar vote, and then only AFTER a comprehensive long-range plan is vetted. Yes, many of us wish to see more rail transit but not scattershot, please.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        I don’t see any problem with putting things that are already studied on the ballot. There’s been more than enough planning for the Fremont/Ballard extension, for instance, to fund it.

  5. Mr Bradford (Brian) says

    The transportation benefit district legislation is an example of how the legislature plays around and runs amok with amendments to what was originally conceived as a supplemental funding mechanism for transit.

    Transportation Benefit Districts were supposed to be a way to provide extra funding for transportation (particularly public) above and beyond what had otherwise been possible.

    A couple of years ago, when at the Transportation Advocacy day conference, I suggested the 20.00 non vote (up to 100.00 with a vote) license fee. I had transit in mind. Rep. Clibborn ran with it and it passed, although some of the intent had gotten muddled with road interests.

    Still, even with how it turned out, the legislation is a great help to those who have chosen to implement it.

    My latest idea involves re-introducing the MVET, though with a few changes. First would be to exempt any vehicles with a GVWR exceeding 18k pounds. This would save most commercial vehicles and recreational vehicles from paying MVET (they already pay high weight fees). Second, the matching mechanism would change to 100% for systems collecting 6/10ths or less sales tax, 87.5 for 7/10, 75 for 8/10 then ratchet down to 62.5% at 9/10ths. Third, the MVET would be set at 1.75% of the published blue book private party value for a car in fair to excellent condition, based on a 10 year depreciation cycle. Fourth, the MVET would be dedicated to transportation-related uses, and used as matching funds for federal grants.

    I am well aware that many feel a mileage-based tax is a better fit, but that would gain little support outside of Puget Sound. The MVET as I conceive it would have more support.

    Brian Bradford
    Kennewick/Olympia, WA

    • Zed says

      “Transit users want more money for transit items, then transit users should pay for them.”

      It’s funny that you should mention this is response to this blog post, since most of the money from the Transportation Benefit District is going to road projects. I guess you didn’t actually read the post before commenting on it. And by the way, transit users do pay for transit, through our taxes. I’d be willing to bet that there are many people who read this blog and are transit activists who pay a heck of lot more in taxes than you do. We all have to pay for things that we might not necessarily use, that’s part of living in a society.

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