News

Transportation tax vote is a year away

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

A regional transportation plan that critics say might not do enough for south King County would be funded by a tax proposal scheduled to go to voters next year.

The Regional Transportation Investment District, comprised of elected officials from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, has recommended transportation improvements of $14 billion.

King County Executive Ron Sims contends voters might not approve that amount and has countered with a scaled-down plan that removes nearly $400 million in funding for a proposed expansion of heavily used State Route 167 from Auburn south.

That project is a top priority of County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, who, as a member of the district’s planning council, said Sims’ preferences “don’t explicitly mirror the priorities south King County leaders have arrived at after months of discussion and analysis.”

She said Sims’ proposal “falls well short” of alleviating SR-167’s “nearly six hours of (rush-hour) congestion each workday.

County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, whose constituency includes much of the county’s south end, also is critical of current proposals for transportation in the area.

“South King County has been a poor stepchild for a long time when it comes to transportation. I have yet to see anything that fully addresses the problem there,” he said.

To pay for a regional transportation plan, the three-county district hopes voters will approve a combination of higher sales and vehicle license taxes and two new vehicle-related taxes:

• A four-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase.

• A $75 increase of the annual license fee on motor vehicles.

• A three-tenths of 1 percent annual excise tax on vehicles.

• A gas tax of 2.8 percent per gallon in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Those taxes would raise $14.1 billion, more than half ($7.5 billion) coming from King County.

But Sims is calling for a smaller regional plan of $10 billion, with King County to receive approximately $6.5 billion in improvements –– roughly two-thirds the amount of King County investment that many district leaders have suggested.

A final list of proposed projects in the three counties hasn’t been finalized.

While the plan isn’t scheduled to be on a ballot until November 2004, Patterson said officials must decide whether voters will support a $14 million tax package “in these challenging times.”

“While there is no doubt that we have a backlog of desperately needed transportation improvements, we must develop a package that gains voter approval,” she said.

Regional business, environmental and civic leaders are planning a privately

funded public poll in October to gauge voters’ opinions.

Referendum 51, a statewide measure to fund transportation projects, was

defeated last year. Voters in King County rejected the referendum by a smaller margin than the state as a whole.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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