King County has chance to raise money for transit, rural roads

A bill in the state Legislature would allow the county council to raise more money from car tabs and a tax on vehicle sales.

The King County Council could find its ability boosted to increase vehicle-related taxes without a public ballot under a bill introduced this week in the Washington Senate.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, introduced a bill Tuesday that would:

  • Increase the license renewal fee that the King County County Council can levy without a public ballot from $20 to $40 per year. Currently, King County does not levy such a fee, although Seattle and some other King County cities do. King County does have a $20 per vehicle fee as a congestion reduction charge that was installed in 2010 and is scheduled to expire in mid-2014.
  • Allow the county council to levy a motor vehicle excise tax of up to 1.5 percent of a vehicle's value — except for trucks weighing more than 3 tons empty, farm vehicles and commercial trailers. Right now, the King County Council and its counterparts elsewhere in Washington can levy a 0.2 percent sale tax by going through a public ballot.

The Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on Murray's bill, agreeing to waive a five-day waiting period between that bill's introduction and its hearing because the cut-off date for such hearings is Friday. The bill addresses only King County.

The King County government — along with the cities of Seattle, Renton, Redmond, Kent and Shoreline — supported the bill, as did some transportation groups, labor organizations and college student interests. Auto dealer groups and the Association of Washington Business opposed it.

A $40 license renewal fee would raise $9 million for rural King County and $37 million for its cities, said Harold Taniguchi, director of the King County Department of Transportation. "Now's the time for investment, we cannot afford to wait," Taniguchi said.

No calculations have been done yet on a 1.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax. The bill calls for 60 percent of that tax to go to public transit, with 40 percent going to roads. King County Metro Transit handled 115 million passengers in 2012, and it estimates that the service keeps 175,000 cars off the county's roads each weekday. About 60 percent of King County Metro's budget comes from sales taxes. In 2012, Metro's operating budget was $642.5 million while the capital budget was roughly $365.5 million. Without new revenue, Metro expects its operating budget to drop 17 percent by late 2014.

Seattle City Council President Sally Clark cited the costs of maintaining the county's s roads and the need for public transit to keep additional cars off those roads as reasons for supporting the new tax-levying powers for King County. t "The only way (we're) going to create capacity on the roads is to lure people out of their cars and on to the bus,"Clark said.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said, "This is not luring people out of their cars, but forcing them out of their cars."

Scott Hazelgrove of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association argued that these taxes would discourage people from buying cars, which would have a ripple effect of the local governments also losing sales tax revenue from those car sales.

Duke Schaub of the Associated General Contractors of Washington worried about King County residents facing these new taxes in the near future, which might sour them on more transportation-related taxes later. He suggested meshing the taxes in Murray's bill into a bigger, more comprehensive package of transportation taxes and improvements.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Nobody should support this. The State and the County have proven to be incapable of managing the money they currently recieve. Do not send them any additional funds.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

According to this article, Metro's total budget in 2012 was over $1 BILLION. By comparison, King County spent under $100 million on roads. There is the problem: King County spends ten times as much on transit as it spends on roads. And this does not include Sound Transit's 2012 budget of close to $1 billion, most of which was spent in King County.

This should be reversed -- King County should be spending $1 billion-plus per year on roads and $100 million on transit. If Metro wants more revenue, then raise the fares. Transit riders should be paying their own way, instead of being massively subsidized by taxpayers.

Sally Clark is a clown. She is quoted as saying, "The only way (we're) going to create capacity on the roads is to lure people out of their cars and on to the bus." What a stupid comment. You can create more capacity on the roads by stopping reducing the number of traffic lanes with your incredibly stupid "road diets." Seattle just got done reducing Mercer St. from 4 lanes to 3 lanes eastbound. You want to know how to "create capacity on the roads", stupid? Make Mercer St. four lanes again, instead of three. And make Dexter four lanes again instead of two. And make Nickerson four lanes again, instead of two. And so on.

What idiots -- they purposely reduce the number of traffic lanes, and then complain that there is no way to "create capacity on roads."

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

The House staff said that the 1.5% MVET would raise $130 million.

Also, the King County roads budget is only for county roads (unincorporated areas), so most money spent on roads in King County is spent the cities, or state, or feds.

Great bill, both for roads and transit.

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

State and federal highways are completely funded by gas tax and tolls. Seattle takes in as much money from parking fees, parking fines and parking taxes as it spends on streets each year. There is a lot of unfunded maintenance on county and city roads. There is plenty of tax revenue in King County to fix this, but the problem is that a massive amount of tax revenue in King County -- around $1.5 BILLION per year -- is wasted subsidizing transit. If transit users paid their own way, as they should, then that tax revenue could be used on roads and bridges, as it should be. After all, buses can't go anywhere without roads and bridges. And the vast majority of trips in King County are taken in motor vehicles which require roads and bridges to go anywhere.

Roads and bridges are vital. Transit is not. The economy would collapse without roads and bridges. It would not collapse without transit, and it certainly would not collapse if transit were funded with fares instead of tax subsidies.

We need to stop the massive drain of tax dollars into heavily subsidizing transit, and use that money to maintain and repair our roads and bridges. Transit riders need to start paying their own way, like motorists do.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

The money grubbing and grabbing by government never ends. These are autophobic sanctions, penalties, fees, and taxes aimed at drivers. Proposed tolls and gas tax increases further add to government out of control. If the 2/3 majority for tax increases that was struck down today by the Washington Supreme Court remains, we must now amend the state constitution and forever reign in runaway taxation.

animalal

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 4:40 p.m. Inappropriate

It use to be that government employees had to live in the city they worked for. This could solve not only transit problems, but increase accountability.

salmonjim

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

When are people who drive going to run for public office? It's past time.

Posted Fri, Mar 1, 11:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I can say this much: I am postponing my automobile purchase until this is resolved.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Mar 3, 4:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Good idea. Check out Car2go.

Money spent on more lanes of traffic is wasted. We are out of space for parked vehicles. And if we are smart, we'll give up on making more space. Publicly or privately funded, it's way to expensive.

Each additional private parking space requires more publicly funded road capacity to feed it.

Posted Sat, Mar 2, 6:29 p.m. Inappropriate

What's up with the crazy comments? What do "road diets" have to do with transit spending? They've been doing "road diets" for 20+ years around here. It's not a new thing, and while it slows cars down, it doesn't increase congestion. The carrying capacity on those roads is just fine.

And if you don't think our economy would come to a screeching halt in the absence of transit, you're also not paying attention. HALF of all commutes in/out of Downtown Seattle every day are coming by transit. What do you think it would look like with everyone driving in their own cars? And what do you think a bridge commute would look like if everyone on the buses got into their own car instead?

Mickymse

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