Seattle voters trade higher taxes for better bus service

Early ballot counts show the city's Proposition 1 transit funding initiative with a strong lead.
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For now at least, buses are the workhorses of Seattle's public transit system.

Early ballot counts show the city's Proposition 1 transit funding initiative with a strong lead.

Seattle voters demonstrated their willingness to pay more taxes and fees for improved bus service on Tuesday night, as early ballot counts showed the city's Proposition 1 transit funding initiative with a commanding lead.

Originally conceived as a way to preserve bus service slated for cuts, then repackaged as a means to fund additional transit hours, the ballot measure was ahead 58.8 percent to 41.1 percent as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The initiative calls for increasing the city's sales tax by 0.1 percent and hiking car tab fees by $60. As it stands, the city would use that money to pay King County Metro Transit for added bus service. The Seattle Department of Transportation has already identified nearly 60 overcrowded or unreliable routes, and bus lines in need of more frequent service, which would be targeted for improvements.

As he walked across Pike Street from a Proposition 1 campaign party at the Comet Tavern, to a nearby gathering for the city-backed Proposition 1B pre-school measure, Mayor Ed Murray, who proposed the transit initiative back in May, said that voter approval for it was an example of "progressives getting stuff done." Asked what the robust support for transit funding said about Seattle, he replied: "It is the city willing to pay for something that makes us a more equitable city, something that allows us to continue to manage growth."

"Progressives came together and didn't fight with each other on this one," he added. "I didn't think I would get the chance to increase transit until maybe my fourth year in office, or, if I was so lucky, maybe my second term."

The additional sales tax and car tab fee revenue are expected to generate $45 million per year. Under the current plan, about $40 million would go toward Seattle bus service. Up to $3 million would go into a Regional Partnership Fund, which would help pay for routes that run in and out of the city limits at peak commuting hours. About $2 million would fund programs designed to help offset the burden of the new sales tax and car tab fees on low-income residents. That includes a rebate that would drop the price of car-tabs to $20 for those who qualify.

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