We are used to a debate about regressive taxation every time a transit proposition is on the ballot.
Sound Move (ST1) in 1996 was funded by a 0.
0.5% sales tax increase, a vehicle license fee of $30 per $10,000 value, and a 0.8% car rental sales tax. Sound Transit 2 in 2008 was funded by a 0. 0.4% % sales tax increase.
The failed King County Proposition 1 in 2014 featured a 0.1% sales tax increase and a $60 vehicle license fee increase, with a potential $40 rebate for low-income car owners who requested it. (Unsurprisingly, opponents of Regional Transit Proposition 1 who are now championing bus rapid transit were nowhere to be seen during that campaign, except for those who opposed that bus-only measure.) Seattle Proposition 1 in 2014 used the same revenue menu as the failed county proposition, which had passed handily in Seattle.
Regional Transit Proposition 1, a.k.a. Sound Transit 3, if approved by voters, will be funded by a 0.5% sales tax increase, a vehicle license fee of
$110 per $10,000 value, and a property tax of $25 per $100,000 value.
Property tax, which
disproportionately taxes the wealthy, was added to the mix by ESSB 5987 last year. When the Sound Transit Board opted to make use of this much more progressive tax source for Regional Transit Proposition 1, some among the well-to-do started decrying the funding for RP1 as regressive. Sure, an income tax would be even more progressive. But if we had to wait until one is adopted in this state before we start funding essential services, like transit, we’d likely have to wait a long, long time.
So, back to sales tax, about which the well-to-do are complaining much less …
You may have noticed higher up in the ballot Initiative 732, which would reduce the state sales tax by 1%, while imposing a carbon tax that is designed to replace that chunk of sales tax revenue. The proposed 1% sales tax reduction is twice the sales tax increase proposed in Regional Transit Proposition 1.
Some I-732 critics have been calling for funding of programs for community reinvestment so the poor aren’t hit hardest by the imposition of the carbon tax. This is where Regional Transit Proposition 1 comes in, as a major investment program that reduces Puget Sound communities’ reliance on polluting energy sources, while simultaneously creating lots of family-wage jobs.
The largest carbon pollution source in the state, by far, is automobile exhaust. The more the availability of transit enables people to do most of their trips without a car, the less carbon tax the transit-reliant will be paying.
A chunk of automobile-created pollution is diesel vehicles, including buses. One can argue whether diesel buses contribute to climate change, but regardless, the transit agencies using them will end up paying the carbon tax. Luckily, Sound Transit gets 84% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Upon completion of ST3 capital projects, Sound Transit would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by roughly 800,000 tons annually.
Bus rapid transit typically comes without the pollution-fighting benefits of electrified rail lines. The catenary required to electrify BRT lines would cost roughly the same as the catenary required for rail lines. BRT would also need the same right-of-way priority investments that rail does, given our 1st world political environment, in which movement away from SOV lanes is a firing offense.
Compare the air-quality impact of all-bus systems vs. one with electrified rail. Some ST3 opponents have pointed to Bogota, Colombia, with a massive bus system and several full BRT lines, as an example of BRT being just as effective as rail. But check out Bogota’s live-time air pollution map, and compare it to that of Mexico City, where Zach was last week. Indeed, Mexico City is now more breathable than much of the suburban United States.
By opting to build electrified high-capacity transit, rather than a fleet of smog-inducing diesel bus lines, Regional Transit Proposition 1 becomes the capital investment program opponents of I-732 have been calling for in their nit-picking of what I-732 doesn’t do by itself.
Vlad Gutman-Britten listed several other ways in which Regional Transit Proposition 1 will help fight climate change. Seattle Subway suggested an even more clever and simple way to fight climate change and offset the tax cost of RP1 for a typical Sound Transit district taxpayer: Cancel your Seattle Times subscription.
In short, I-732, while being a full frontal assault on regressive taxation, benefits greatly from the capital investments in Regional Transit Proposition 1 that will help reduce the burden of the carbon tax on residents of King, Pierce, and Snohomish County. Regional Transit Proposition 1, while relying partially on sales tax, will have the burden of its most regressive tax element more than wiped out by the passage of Initiative 732.
For the sake of the future mobility of the denizens of our region, the fight against poverty, and the future of the atmosphere, please approve both!