With about five days to go before the end of the legislative session, there’s plenty more we can do to help.

Since the loss of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), many transit agencies have hurt for revenue – and today that hurt is double due to huge falls in sales tax. This year we may have two new options, but only if we tell our legislators we want them!

The first is a transportation benefit district, that would allow transit agencies and municipalities to ask for (yes, ask, this would require a public vote) a $20 car tab – not based on value, just flat. The second would allow King County to use some of our existing ferry district revenue, which is much higher than our ferry needs, for transit. This would fill $30 million of Metro’s $100 million budget hole.

In the House, Representative Simpson was able to add an amendment (PDF) to SB 5433 (“Modifying provisions of local option taxes”) to do these things, but the Senate did not concur. This is normal, it just means that the bill has to go into conference committee.

As this would greatly benefit King County, I’m hoping to see Senator Jarrett take a supportive position on the bill as passed by the House.

This would also be a great time to take a moment to call your legislators to support these tools to prevent transit service cuts! Here’s the District Finder tool, as well as the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000 (8am-8pm).

8 Replies to “Action Item: Getting Transit Revenue Options”

  1. Thank you, Rep. Simpson. Senator Jarrett is a friendly guy who has never stopped supporting the bus system. I hope he helps Metro out.

  2. Ben,

    A transportation benefit district may be established by a county or a city, not by the legislature. See RCW 36.73.020; RCW 35.21.225. The Seattle City Council or the King County Council both have the authority to create a transportation benefit district after holding a public hearing. See RCW 36.73.050. We could have a district in a month.

    Once established, a transportation benefit district may, upon a majority vote of the governing board (usually the council that created the district), raise revenue without a public vote by charging a $20 vehicle fee or a commercial development fee. See RCW 36.73.065(4). By statute, upon voter approval, a transportation benefit district may also raise revenue through a property tax levy, see RCW 36.73.060, a sales tax, tolls, or a vehicle fee up to $100, see RCW 36.73.040 (discussing taxing authority); RCW 36.73.065(4) (providing that only commercial development fees and vehicle fees of $20 or less may be enacted without a public vote).

    So let’s lobby the city and county councils!

    1. I believe the existing statute is separate from this bill – you should read the amendment, it appears to add a new transportation benefit area.

      1. Ben is correct. The value of Rep. Simpson’s amendment is that it allows the transit entity to intitiate the tax, whereas under the current TBD statutes, transits may benefit from the revenue, but only if the general government creates the district and decides to share. Only a few cities have bothered to create a TBD; none of the 39 counties have stepped up. And I don’t think that any of the city-created TBD’s shared any revenue with their transit provider.

        I would also ask folks to review SB 6170, which creates a sales tax exemption for alternative energy production machinery and materials. Unfortunately, in section 106 of the bill, it creates an exemption from the sales tax that goes to transits, which, of course, is voter approved. This bill is scheduled to be heard in House Finance tomorrow, Wednesday, the 22nd. While it is the state’s choice to give away its revenue during these tough times, it is irritating when they give away transit’s revenue.

      2. Unquestionably, Rep. Simpson’s amendment is a good thing. What exasperates me is that Dow and Larry fall over themselves trying to get money for Metro by expanding the authority of the King County Ferry District, when they already have a tool at their disposal to increase funding for Metro—a transportation benefit district. They don’t even have to wait on Olympia. Sure, neither of them wants to take political heat for raising taxes or fees during a severe recession. But this is also an opportunity for one of them to show leadership and creativity, instead of passing the buck to Olympia.

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