King County Council OKs taxing district for transportation funding

The King County Council approved the formation of a Transportation Benefit District to help fund public transportation.  - File photo
The King County Council approved the formation of a Transportation Benefit District to help fund public transportation.
— image credit: File photo

The King County Council unanimously approved the formation of a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) this week, a move the Council hopes will be able to solve the challenge of public transportation funding experienced in the last five years.

The TBD is a separate taxing district that has the authority to generate revenue for transit, roads and other transportation projects, according to a press release from the Council.

“With formation of a countywide Transportation Benefit District, King County now has a potential tool for funding preservation of Metro Transit service and maintenance of local roads and transportation infrastructure,” said Council chair Larry Phillips. “Without new revenue, King County faces transit service cuts up to 17 percent and at least a $50 million annual gap for the maintenance of county roads.”

Phillips’s colleague, vice chair Joe McDermott, said this move was a needed step in beginning to try and solve the problem of transportation funding and transportation infrastructure.

“This is an important step of placing a measure on the ballot, which would allow the public to consider staving off cuts to Metro bus service,” he noted.

According to the county, the TBD would be similar to the already existing King County Ferry District and King County Flood District. The members of the County Council would act as the board for the TBD, and would have the “authority to acquire, construct, improve, provide and fund transportation improvements identified in the transportation plan of the Puget Sound Regional Council, the county or a city within the county.”

Councilmember Larry Gossett reiterated that the council’s action was just the beginning of this process, but ultimately, the decision will be in the hands of the voters.

“Forming the TBD is a vital first step, but the final choice will be made by the voters of King County if the district chooses to send something to the ballot,” Gossett said.

The TBD, according to the county, “will be able to consider funding options and determine whether to propose sending a measure to raise revenue for the district to county voters.”

The formation of the TBD is in response to the aforementioned funding issues with Metro, and the state Legislature’s inability to pass a comprehensive statewide transportation package. The issue of Metro funding specifically was addressed in 2011, when the Council enacted a “congestion reduction charge.” That move tacked on an additional $20 to King County residents’ bills when they re-registered their vehicles. That charge is set to expire later this year, creating the impetus for the Council to create the TBD.

If the voters shoot down any ballot proposal from the TBD, Metro anticipates that the cuts would roll back service to 1997 levels, “despite the fact the county has grown 22 percent with 360,000 more people.”

Metro saw its second-highest ever amount of average weekday rides in October 2013, with 412,000 rides daily. Metro is also nearing its annual record for ridership of 119 million riders. That record was set in 2008.

The transit service estimates it needs approximately $75 million in additional funding to maintain current service levels. The TBD would solve this problem by adding an additional $60 to car tab fees for King County residents, with the upper limit on that figure being $100. The TBD would also have the power to raise the county sales tax by two-tenths of a cent, and the Council’s initial indications is that the TBD would up the county sales tax by one-tenth of a cent.

In a January announcement, the Council and County Executive Dow Constantine said they hoped the TBD would be able to have its first initiative on the ballot by April.

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