County officials propose transportation benefit district ballot measure

King County officials on Tuesday announced plans to send to voters an ordinance to create a transportation benefit district that would raise an estimated $130 million per year through a $60 car tab increase and a one-tenth of a cent increase in the county sales tax.

In the absence of action by the Legislature on a statewide transportation package with local funding authority, regional leaders united in support of the ballot measure designed to give King County voters a chance to save Metro bus service and address the backlog of road and street maintenance in the cities and County.

King County Executive Dow Constantine was joined today by four King County Councilmembers and others in proposing a local funding measure for the April ballot. The proposal also calls for adoption of a scheduled fare increase of 25 cents for 2015 and the first-ever reduced fare for riders of limited means.

Under existing state law, the Metropolitan King County Council can consider an ordinance creating a transportation benefit district, funded by a potential annual vehicle fee of up to $100 and a temporary sales tax of up to two-tenths of cent.

The proposed ordinance proposed today calls for creation of a King County Transportation District that would ask voters to approve amounts less than the full funding authority:

• $60 vehicle fee – raising an estimated $80 million a year; and

• One-tenth of a cent sales tax that would expire after 10 years – raising an estimated $50 million a year.

Together, the estimated $130 million a year is similar to the estimated $140-$150 million that would have been raised through the motor vehicle excise tax in the statewide package stalled in Olympia. The impact to the average household in King County would be just over $11 a month.

Under the proposal, 60 percent of the revenues – about $80 million ­– would be distributed to Metro Transit for bus service, with 40 percent – about $50 million – to fund roads and transportation needs in cities and in unincorporated King County, with allocations based on population.

The proposed revision to fares includes an across-the-board 25-cent fare increase in 2015, and a reduced fare of $1.50 per trip for qualifying low-income riders who use an ORCA card. The proposal is designed to ensure that users of the Metro system are doing their part to preserve bus service.

The proposed increase was already part of Metro’s long-range financial plan, and would be the fifth time since 2008 that Metro has raised fares to help preserve service.

It would raise an estimated $6.6 million annually, starting March 1, 2015.

The reduced fare would help offset the cumulative impacts of increases in fares and the sales tax. It would be available to riders with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and would require the use of an ORCA card. Cash would not be accepted for reduced-fare payment on buses. To develop the most accessible and cost-effective means of determining program eligibility, King County will work with local service providers and state agencies.

The proposal builds upon the recommendation of a 21-member advisory committee, representing a broad cross-section of interests, which unanimously urged that fares be kept as affordable as possible to ensure continued access to bus service and jobs for riders of all income levels.

New funding proposal for Metro and roadsMetro Transit has created more than $800 million in reforms and efficiencies over the past five years, in order to hold off drastic cuts to service.

With the expiration of the temporary, two-year $20 Congestion Reduction Charge in June and the draining of reserve funds, Metro needs an estimated $75 million in annual revenue to keep service on the road and purchase replacement buses or it must cut up to 17 percent of service.

Metro has outlined a proposal to cancel 74 bus routes and reduce and revise another 107 routes to live within reduced revenues, including effects in Renton. Three months of public meetings are underway prior to the County Council’s consideration next spring of any service cuts.

Since 2008, funding for county roads has shrunk by over a third as a result of annexations, lower property valuations and a decline in state gas tax revenues. The county Road Services Division has been forced to reduce staffing and there are now 40 percent fewer workers to maintain and preserve the county road network.

As a result, the roads system in unincorporated King County is deteriorating, service levels are reduced, and fewer roads can be plowed and kept open for travel and restoration of utilities this year should a regionwide storm strike.

Unincorporated King County roads are estimated to carry more than one million vehicle trips each day.

Metro’s proposed cuts are unprecedented in the agency’s 40-year history, would potentially reduce ridership by 14 million a year, reverting the agency to 1997 service levels. According to Metro’s service guidelines, the agency should be increasing bus service by 15 percent. Instead, the current proposal details up to 17 percent in cuts. Another 150 daily bus trips between West Seattle and downtown Seattle – buses that ease construction congestion during the Alaskan Way Viaduct project – also are at risk of being canceled in June when state funding ends.

In October, Metro carried 412,000 average weekday rides, its second highest ever. The agency is nearing the annual record of 119 million riders last seen in 2008.

The Council will deliberate on the specific proposal to place on the ballot, and when to put it before voters.

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