This fall, Seattle voters will be asked to fund city bus service by increasing car-tab fees and the sales tax. This is instead of a “progressive” tax imposed on commercial parking lots and city business owners.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District Governing Board on July 17 approved a November ballot measure to preserve citywide bus service with a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase and a $60 car-tab fee. The ballot measure will also include language to provide low-income car owners with a $20 car-tab rebate.
The board, comprised of all nine members of the Seattle City Council, voted not to replace the 0.1 percent sales-tax increase with a hike in the commercial parking tax and the institution of an employee tax.
“What a missed opportunity,” Councilmember Nick Licata said after the vote.
Licata, along with Councilmember Kshama Sawant, had proposed to amend the ballot measure to tax employers up to $18 per employee and to raise the tax on commercial parking lots, instead of hiking the sales tax. Both Licata and Sawant said during the meeting that increasing the sales tax was “regressive,” while employee and commercial parking taxes were “progressive” revenue sources.
Licata said that groups such as the Transit Riders Union and the 36th District Democrats supported taxing businesses and parking lots. The majority of public comments during the meeting were in favor of the Licata-Sawant amendment.
Other councilmembers, however, expressed reservations.
In an April special election, King County voters were presented with a transportation measure to preserve Metro bus service. Metro faces an annual $75 million deficit. Without an infusion of cash, the transit agency plans to cut 16 percent of bus service in four stages, beginning in September.
While that spring ballot measure failed countywide, two-thirds of Seattle voters approved it. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said that Seattle voters would likely approve a similar measure a second time.
Councilmember Sally Clark agreed.
“It seems like the smartest ‘best bet’ to me,” said Clark.
During the meeting, Licata said that because bus transit was important to Seattle riders, he would support whatever measure the board approved.
Speaking after the meeting, Licata said while he still believes an employee tax and increase of the commercial parking tax are viable options, he won’t pursue those funding sources until voters make a decision on the November ballot measure.
“We’ll just have to wait,” Licata said.