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Sales tax and vehicle fee would fund transit, roads

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

King County will ask voters to approve a $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund transit, roads and other transportation projects.

Last month the King County Council created the King County Transportation District, a taxing district that has the authority to generate revenue. An April 22 ballot measure would generate an estimated $130 million, said Al Sanders, communications specialist for the King County Council, from the vehicle license fee and the sales tax increase.

King County officials had hoped for a statewide transportation package that would fund transit and roads, but since the state Legislature didn’t pass one, forming the Transportation District was another solution.

“It’s a hot topic, because it links you with your job, and it’s also going to cost money, and it’s also happening very quickly. We’ve been working with the state Legislature for the past two years, and we’ve been working intently for them to come up with a solution,” said King Council Councilmember Jane Hague at a town hall meeting in Kirkland last month. “... Last year, no action. This year, no action.”

Money for roads and transit has dwindled for several reasons, said John Resha, lead staff to the King County Transportation and Economy & Environment Committee. A 1999 initiative repealed the motor vehicle excise tax, taking away lots of money from roads and transit, Resha said.

Transit is primarily dependent on sales tax, which has suffered during the recession. The county’s roads rely on property tax from unincorporated areas, and although King County is responsible for almost 20 percent of the county’s roads, only 12 percent of the population lives in unincorporated areas.

Last year, King County considered cutting or revising 85 percent of bus routes by June 2014 due to the funding shortage. Of the six bus routes that serve Woodinville, King County Metro Transit would have canceled one route, revised four routes to run less often and preserved one route.

Many citizens at the town hall meeting urged King County not to eliminate bus service. David Edwards, vice president of student government at the University of Washington Bothell, said that of the three bus routes serving the college, one will be canceled and two will be reduced.
“Students come up to me all the time worried about this right now,” Edwards said. “They can barely cover tuition, housing, things like that. They’re worried, ‘If these transit cuts do happen, how will I be able to get to campus? I can barely afford my next meal’ ... It’s a tough choice, but students will have to make it.”

The funding for roads could cover services like snow plowing, which was cut dramatically in unincorporated areas this year. In areas outside of Woodinville, the county will only be able to keep Avondale Road and Woodinville-Duvall road free of snow and ice in a countywide storm.
The ballot measure would raise King County’s sales tax from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent for 10 years, Sanders said.

It would also establish a $60 vehicle license fee, replacing a current $20 fee that expires in June. (A low-income rebate program would refund $20 of the fee to vehicle owners whose household income is less than 45 percent of the county median.)

Sixty percent of that revenue from the sales tax increase and vehicle fee, or about $80 million, would go to Metro Transit to maintain current bus service, Sanders said. Forty percent, or about $50 million, would go to cities for transportation improvements and the county for maintenance and upkeep on unincorporated roads.

If there’s money left over after maintaining current transit hours, it will be split evenly between transit and unincorporated roads.

Woodinville would receive about $290,000, based on estimates from King County and the Sound Cities Association, said Alexandra Sheeks, assistant to the Woodinville city manager.
In comparison, Woodinville would generate an estimated $750,000 to $800,000 through sales tax and vehicle license fees, Sheeks said. Woodinville’s annual road overlays cost $500,000 to $700,000, and annual road maintenance costs around $830,000 per year.

“So we’re not talking about huge money here to do a big road project,” she said of the money the city could get from the ballot measure. “...The bulk of the revenue would go to King County. Only a third would go to Woodinville.”

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