Pierce Transit failed to get voters’ approval for a sales-tax increase to pay for bus service, so the agency shrank its boundaries and tried again last year — only to suffer another defeat.
Now Democrats on the state House Transportation Committee want to let the agency try with an even smaller group of voters, without shrinking its overall service area.
Their proposal, announced Wednesday and unveiled in full Thursday, drew headlines for its 10-cent gas-tax increase and other statewide transportation fees and taxes. But it would also give local governments new taxing authority that many of them have been asking for:
• Cities and counties that form transportation districts could charge a car-tab fee of up to $40. Today they are allowed to charge up to $20, which a growing number of cities such as Olympia do.
• Mass-transit agencies in King and Snohomish counties could levy motor-vehicle excise taxes of 0.7 percent, on top of Democrats’ proposed statewide 0.7 percent vehicle tax. Snohomish’s Community Transit would have to get voter approval; King’s Metro Transit would not.
• The new authority sought by Pierce Transit would let the agency designate a zone of up to 49 percent of its total population to get the benefits of any new sales taxes. That could grab a more sympathetic set of voters for the agency if it tries again for a three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase.
Local governments would also get a $675 million cut of the nearly $10 billion, 10-year statewide tax package.
The proposed Pierce Transit authority was originally put forward by Rep. Jake Fey, a Tacoma Democrat on the Transportation Committee.
Both Fey and Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said cities should be allowed to opt out of the subarea, which would require a change in the transportation bill.
“We’re trying to mitigate some serious cuts, and be able to provide reliable service to the community,” Erickson said. “We’re about to cut 28 percent of our service in September and obviously this, even if this were to pass, we wouldn’t be able to utilize it in time to avoid some of those cuts.”
The cuts are coming in reaction to November’s voter rejection of an extra 0.3 percent in sales tax.
If it does create a subarea, one area Erickson said might have the most need for restored bus routes is the Pacific Avenue corridor that runs south from downtown Tacoma. Voters in that corridor generally supported last year’s tax increase, with those in northern end of it posting some of the highest approval ratings.
“It’s going to be more applicable to Tacoma and Lakewood than other parts of Pierce Transit service territory,” Fey said. “You target it to those where there’s more demand than what you can afford to do with the current revenue.”
Clark County’s transit agency received similar authority to create subdistricts in 2009.
Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama, leader of the minority Republicans on the Transportation Committee, said he’s worried about subdistricts’ effect on outlying areas.
“They cut out the rural people, but the rural people still have to shop in those urban areas,” he said.
A former Tacoma City Council member, Fey also proposed the $40 car-tab fee, which cities including Tacoma are seeking.
Tacoma’s $20 fee starts in June, but will raise a relatively small sum: $4.1 million over two years.
The money could be used for virtually any transportation expense, including local street repair, bike lanes and trails.Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @Jordan_Schrader