By Jane Hadley
SEATTLE Hopes for a new revenue source from the Washington
Legislature for a regional transportation package died Thursday
(March 11), shifting attention now to the Sound Transit board,
which is mulling whether to participate in the package on
a November ballot.
Leaders of the three-county Regional Transportation Investment
District had asked the Legislature for authority for another
0.3 percent motor vehicle excise tax in addition the 0.3 percent
authority the district already had. They made the request
so that they could rely less on the sales tax in putting a
multibillion dollar transportation tax before voters.
The Sound Transit board heard a presentation yesterday on
how a joint ballot would work and discussed the pros and cons.
They are scheduled to make a decision April 8 and will need
a two-thirds vote of the 18-member board to pass it. The board
is said to be divided and undecided on a course of action.
Seattle leaders have insisted neither they nor voters would
support a regional transportation ballot measure that does
not include light rail, and most district leaders have concluded
after seeing results of polls and focus groups that they need
to have more transit in the package than is there without
Meanwhile, in other action yesterday, Sen. Jim Horn, R- Mercer
Island, and Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, agreed on a $112 million
supplemental transportation budget yesterday, adjusting the
two-year budget passed by lawmakers in 2003. They are the
chairs of the transportation committees in each house.
It will fully fund Vashon-Seattle passenger ferries, provide
money for freight mobility projects, and accelerate construction
of carpool lanes north of Everett so that they can be completed
before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. begin.
Also provided for in the supplemental budget is money for
a program pushed hard by Gov. Gary Locke to allow people to
renew their drivers' licenses online. The investment district's
request for more motor-vehicle excise tax authority foundered
because the district itself could not agree on whether the
tax should be prohibited from being used on light rail, commute
trip-reduction programs, or bus operating expenses.
Also failing to win approval were two other district requests.
One was that the Legislature clarify the district's authority
to impose tolls on a rebuilt Evergreen Point Bridge.
Another was that lawmakers give the district permission to
use more than the standard 75 words to present the ballot
measure to voters. The district wants to be able to describe
the projects in three counties that would be paid for by the
Regional transportation leaders had varying interpretations
of how the failure to achieve its legislative goals would
affect the prospects of getting a package on this November's
No one said it would kill the chances, but King County Council
Member Julia Patterson said it would make the district's job
much harder. Patterson, who was perhaps most disappointed
of anybody at the failure to win the excise tax authority,
said the sales tax is regressive and polls show voters don't
like using it for transportation.
She predicted three likely scenarios for the district: a
November package that is more regressive and smaller than
the district has talked about, a November package that relies
less on the sales tax and is less regressive but drastically
smaller, or no package on the ballot at all for several years.
A drastically smaller package could mean trouble for some
state Route 167 projects in Patterson's district.
But King County Councilman Dwight Pelz was less pessimistic.
"I don't think it changes things that much," Pelz
said. The additional 0.3 motor-vehicle excise tax would have
raised an additional $1 billion Pelz, which could be at least
partly made up by a higher vehicle license fee.
Murray said the motor vehicle excise tax is "the most
radioactive tax out there" and it wasn't fair to expect
legislators to vote for it when the district itself could
not agree on it.
Pelz said he doesn't believe the district's package necessarily
must be drastically smaller. The district's executive board
has talked about a package of up to $14 billion, though King
County Executive Ron Sims and representatives of business,
labor and environmental groups have said that package is too
"The (district) would have to produce a very small package,"
said Peter Hurley, executive director of the pro-transit Transportation
Choices Coalition. "The idea of a $12 billion package
Sound Transit's main source of revenue is the sales tax and
it plans to go to voters in the next couple of years with
a new set of transit projects known as Phase 2.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis talked yesterday of a $4 billion
to $5 billion district package.
Most agreed yesterday that if Sound Transit does not vote
to join the package in November, it would be dead.
Still Pelz, a likely supporter of Sound Transit participation,
said, "This is not going to be an easy vote for Sound
Both Hurley and Aaron Ostrom, executive director of One Thousand
Friends of Washington, an environmental group, hinted that
Sound Transit should think twice about agreeing to the joint
ballot, calling it a "shotgun wedding."
In a joint ballot, Sound Transit would give 0.1 of its remaining
0.5 cents sales tax authority to the Regional Transportation
Investment District, which would include projects selected
by Sound Transit in the transportation package presented to
voters. That would raise an estimated $1.2 billion in King
County, $400 million in Pierce and $300 million in Snohomish.
But Sound Transit cannot under its own charter invest in
any projects not mentioned in the 1996 Sound Move ballot measure.
These are so called Phase 1 projects. Phase 2 is more than
a year away. The problem is that it's hard to find remaining
Phase 1 projects for Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
The King County money would likely be used on getting Seattle's
light rail project to Northgate and to South 200th Street.Because
most of the Sound Transit money would go to Seattle's light
rail, other areas could swap their unused transit money for
Seattle's share of roads money from the investment district,
but environmentalists are sharply critical of that approach.
"Seattle is not the only place that wants transportation
choices," Hurley said.