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King County considers higher car tab fees

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced this week he will ask the King County Council to increase car tab fees by $20, a move designed to maintain King County Metro service levels, at least for the short term. If the increase in fees is not approved by the council, Metro will face cutting 17 percent of it’s current service levels.

“To keep people moving and economic recovery on track, this temporary funding will preserve bus service near current levels while we work out a statewide transportation solution that supports transit,” Constantine said in an official release from his office’s website. “I don’t hear anyone asking for less bus service, but the system reduction that would be required if there is no interim funding would impact four of every five of our riders. It would directly or indirectly affect every community in the county, at a time when demand is going up.”

If the $20 “Congestion Reduction Charge” is not enacted, service levels would be reduced by 600,000 hours over the next two years. In terms of real life impact, that 600,000-hour reduction would be roughly the same as cutting all bus service during rush hour, or eliminating all weekend services throughout King County. It’s expected that if the increase is enacted, it will generate approximately $25 million a year over the next two years.

Because of the continued economic strain in Washington, Dow was given the power by the state Legislature to bring this proposed increase directly to the King County Council, instead of having the measure put to a vote of the people. In order for the ordinance to pass, a super-majority of six of the nine council members will need to vote yes.

Already it appears the council may be divided. Council members Larry Phillips and Larry Gossett and Joe McDermott released statements endorsing the proposal, while council member Jane Hague is on the record as saying she will vote no on the proposal.

Hague is quoted as saying she cannot support the proposal because “the car tabs were limited by an overwhelming vote of the people of Washington state. Any changes to that, I believe, need to be put to a vote of the people.”

Another dissenting vote will be council member Reagan Dunn. In an email exchange forwarded to The Mirror, Dunn stated his intentions to vote no on the proposal.

“The people of the state of Washington have spoken on a number of occasions about their desire to vote on car tab increases,” he wrote. “I do not support raising car tabs in King County at this time.”

Federal Way City Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge, Federal Way's representative on two regional transit committees, said there are a couple of things Federal Way officials need to keep in mind while formulating their position on this proposal.

"We need to ensure that our transit users, and we do have a large and transit-dependent population here in Federal Way, we need to make sure they have the best transit service possible," she said.

"In addition to recognizing that transit need, we would say that Metro Transit, as all government agencies should right now, should look at ways to control costs."

Burbidge mentioned that in Federal Way, the council and Mayor Skip Priest have been able to reduce costs by almost $1 million through a variety of means, including reorganization of senior staff positions and other "frugal" measures."We're constantly looking at new ways to reduce costs," she said.

The earliest that the King County Council can take action on the fee proposal is July 22, with an anticipated vote coming on July 25. For more information on King County Metro, visit www.metro.kingcounty.gov.

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