Transit advocates used a forum in Tacoma Thursday to offer options that would generate more money for bus service, whether directly from the state or by imposing a motor vehicle excise tax.
“We continue to push hard for more funding,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition. “But it’s an uphill battle.”
Johnson was one of the speakers before an audience of about 50 people at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Brock Howell said the campaign called Transportation for Washington is pushing for the motor vehicle excise tax as “the local option of the future.” A statewide excise tax was assessed on vehicle registration renewals until voters rejected the tax in 1999.
Howell, field director with Transportation for Washington, said other options for more transit dollars include car tab fees, such as King County’s $20 congestion reduction charge, car rental fees and a commercial parking tax.
Both Howell and Johnson support the Legislature giving local jurisdictions – including transit agencies and county councils – the option of imposing a vehicle excise tax to fund public transit. Their groups also support the Legislature imposing the excise tax on its own.
They and other transit advocates are looking for ways to offset public transit’s dependence on sales tax revenue, which has plummeted since the economic recession started.
Another panelist, Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson, outlined cuts in bus service resulting from voters rejecting sales-tax increases twice, most recently in November.
Pierce Transit’s board voted last week to reduce service by 34 percent starting in September as a result of the second defeat of the proposed sales-tax increase.
That measure, which would have added an extra three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax, failed by 704 votes.
“I believe that tells us that there is still strong support for public transportation in our community,” said Erickson, Pierce Transit’s public relations officer. “There’s not support for sales tax in our community.”
On Wednesday, the transit association that represents Pierce Transit and the state’s 30 other public transit agencies called on the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee to increase the state’s investment in their systems. The Washington State Transit Association also asked the Legislature to let local jurisdictions add the motor vehicle excise tax and car tab fees for transit funding.
Lauren Walker, a member of Pierce Transit’s board and the Tacoma City Council, told Thursday’s forum that the lack of a state income tax in Washington “binds our hands” so that transit funding options are limited to raising the sales tax or imposing fees.
She stressed the importance of people using public transit.
“Any city that’s healthy is going to have a really good public transportation system,” Walker said.
Thursday’s forum was sponsored by Downtown On the Go, a transportation advocate for downtown Tacoma, and Transportation Choices.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTstevemaynard