On Saturday the Washington State House passed a modified version of ESB 6582, the modified text of which is encapsulated in this Marko Liias striking amendment. The final vote was 53 to 43 (roll call here), compared to 25-24 in the Senate for a slightly different bill. A number of Eastside moderates voted against the measure.
Here are the key provisions:
- Counties can levy a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax of up to 1% with voter approval. There is language requiring counties to work with their transit agencies and component cities in crafting the measure, for those with differing governing boards. In King County’s case, a source tells me it is nearly inconceivable that Metro’s long-term deficit is not healed by the measure; whether the remainder goes to cities, Metro, or county road needs is up to the negotiations between stakeholders.
- County gas tax authority changes from 10% of the state gas tax to a flat 3 cents per gallon; currently, King County does not use this authority. In addition, the City of Seattle gets a one-cent authority, which would raise about $4.5m annually for transportation. Both taxes require a public vote.
- Transportation Benefit Districts other than Seattle increase the vehicle license fee that does not require a public vote from $20 to $40, with voter-approved limit still at $100. My source, familiar with the legislature, says that this change is an effort to help out DOTs in strongly anti-tax jurisdictions, while the Seattle exclusion reflects that Seattle voters arguably refuted the idea of larger vehicle license fee last November.
- An entirely new section allows very large TBDs to spend some of their revenue on affordable housing over transit stations; it also frees all transit agencies of the requirement to obtain fair market value on surplus property and airspace rights as long as it is sold for an affordable housing purpose.
“The Senate bill as amended by the House provides the authority counties must have to address our local transportation needs,” King County Executive Dow Constantine told STB. “I urge the Senate to concur with the House amendments and move it quickly to the Governor for signature so we can start work with our partners on how best to allocate this resource.”
I’m not wild about diverting scarce TBD money to subsidize housing, but all-in-all this is a wonderful bill that can solve the immediate problems of the state’s bus systems. The allocation of funds in King County will be interesting; at a minimum, it will stabilize Metro’s service level, but at best it might trigger a series of capital investments that absorb traffic diversion from the deep bore tunnel, improve bus efficiency, and bring RapidRide up to a more rigorous BRT standard.