No money? No problem. At least on King County Metro.
The King County Council approved a new income-based fare program for the local bus system that will provide free bus passes for qualifying county residents who make 80 percent of the federal poverty level or below.
The pass will cover rides on Metro buses, Access vans and the Seattle streetcar network. People who qualify may also get a discount on regional transit.
According to a county press release, the program is expected to serve as many as 54,000 residents and will go into effect midway through the year. For perspective, King County is the most populous county in Washington state with 2.2 million people.
People who already qualify for assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income will be eligible for the free passes, as well.
Get that money
Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales announced their plan to tax the 800 largest companies in Seattle to pay for affordable housing and environmental improvements on existing homes.
The measure, which will be put before voters, would raise $300 million for social housing, among other uses. It would implement a 0.7 percent payroll tax on companies that pay out $7 million and more to their workers.
According to the press release, that would mean 8,000 new affordable units over 10 years and increase energy efficiency in existing homes.
The measure is one critical part of righting the twin homelessness and affordability crises in Seattle, the councilmembers said.
“We must find a more equitable way to fund public services, and we must ensure that housing is a human right,” Morales said.
This is the first time since 2018 that the City Council has taken on a substantial new tax to fund affordable housing and homelessness services. The council passed a tax on businesses that was repealed a month later after polling suggested that voters would reject the measure at the ballot box.
The employee hours tax, as it was dubbed, was different from the current proposal. That law would have charged $275 per employee, per year and raised a lot less — experts believed it would mean $45 million to $47 million for homelessness services.
The additional money is necessary, according to the McKinsey & Company report that informed the discussions around the original tax.
The Puget Sound region needs $400 million a year to build new housing units to meet the existing need, according to the report.
Where that will come from is uncertain. A $300 million tax on the largest businesses in a low-tax state might be part of the answer.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Mar. 11-17, 2020 issue.