[UPDATE: Rep. Eddy, in the comments, points out that the bill does not require a public vote in King County to raise the tax. Corrected below.]
The battles over Sound Transit aren’t the only thing going on in Olympia. For supporters of transit, SB 5433 is a definite step in the right direction, and better yet, has passed the Senate. HB 1147 is the companion bill, and it’s currently sitting in the House Rules Committee, the last obstacle to going to a floor vote. The Striker by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-520 Corridor) is the relevant document (pdf).
The bill is titled “Modifying provisions of local option taxes” and specifically increases the taxing authority that King County can dedicate to transit by allowing existing (unused) Ferry District taxing authority to be used for buses and streetcars instead. Andrew discussed the topic here before.
The current ferry district taxing authority is a property tax equal to 0.075% the value of the house. That’s a huge potential revenue source, equal to approximately $250m a year for King County, and well in excess of any ferry plans the county has. (This very high tax rate is actually in place for rural counties with smaller tax bases). The current King County ferry tax rate is 0.005% – one fifteenth of its authority.
The bill would reduce the ceiling for counties with over 1.5m people (ie, King) to 0.0075% for ferries. (Sec. 7). However, it would also create a new 0.0075% taxing authority for King County which could be applied to transit. (Sec. 8). King County expects that this would generate approximately $25m in revenue, which would plug about a third of the hole in 2010.
Oddly, 13 1/3% of this levy would be reserved for adding bus service along the SR520 corridor. I emailed Rep. Hunter about this, and he responded that Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) is behind this provision. As House Transportation Chair, she is trying to grab federal “urban partnership” dollars. If early tolling on SR 520 passes, the Feds may buy us some buses and establishing a funding source will help in that effort. However, it’s unclear how a requirement for new service would interact with the general climate of cuts likely to impact all service areas.
It’s important to note that this bill would not actually impose the tax, but allow the King County Council to vote to impose the tax, in turn, to put such a tax increase to a public vote. The sources I’ve spoken to are pretty optimistic that this bill is going to pass, and it’s reasonable to expect the County Council will use the authority.then send it to the ballot this fall.