Is another transit-tax measure on the horizon for Seattle?

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Sooner or later, Seattle voters may be asked to approve higher auto tab fees to save Sound Transit 3, or raise seed money for additional light rail lines.

House Bill 1304, championed by the Seattle Subway volunteer group, seems like a long way to go and will soon pass in 2021, but the idea has staying power.

Elected officials have been discussing public and private sources of funding for “third parties” to add ST3 functionality for years before the agency recently uncovered an impending regional funding bottleneck of $ 11.5 billion.

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Seattle activists can quote a litany of unbuilt urban networks, from the Bogue Plan of 1911 to the defeated Forward Thrust measure of 1970, a disdained “Seattle supertrain” in the 1992 film “Singles”, the X-shaped Citizen Monorail Map from 1997 and the city council’s five-line tram network in 2008.

King County’s executive Dow Constantine employees said they support the new move. Among other things, the new taxes could cover the additional $ 200-400 million needed to build the Alaska Junction and Avalon subway stations in 2031, rather than building airways through West Seattle.

Sound Transit stepped up on board the tax proposal last week.

“The bill in front of you may not be the ultimate solution, but it is certainly a useful tool,” said Alex Soldano, the agency’s director of state relations, testifying to a State House committee last week.

HB 1304 would authorize the Seattle city council to work out an electoral measure and, if approved by voters, raise direct money for class-segregated transit. A petition signed by 1% of city voters could also start the referendum.

Seattle-only taxes would be levied on top of the $ 54 billion W3 plan voters passed in 2016 with three counties, which promised nine rail expansions and two express bus transit projects. The centerpiece is the light rail that connects Ballard, Seattle Center, downtown and West Seattle – tunneled in the city center with elevated tracks on the outskirts.

However, last month the agency announced that its estimate of $ 7.1 billion in Seattle had risen to $ 12.6 billion due to rising land costs and difficult soil conditions.

After electoral approval, the council could raise up to $ 250 annual car tab tax per $ 10,000 vehicle value (tripling the current $ 110 for Sound Transit) or a flat car tab fee of $ 100 Add dollars. Another option is a rental car tax of 1.94%. The council could only enact property taxes in support of the bonds.

The city would not seek to maximize these sources, said Jonathan Hopkins, political director of the Seattle Subway.

However, the Seattle Subway Vision Map is ambitious, showing potential ST4 routes such as Ballard-Wallingford-U District, West Seattle-Burien, Central District, and Rainier Beach-Renton.

With help from the city, Hopkins said the tunneled South Lake Union Station in ST3 could add a north-facing stub in 2036, so future generations could build tracks to busy Aurora Avenue North.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. David Hackney, D-Tukwila said this could help his district maintain a line between South Park and Renton that would require more rail links in Seattle.

Former House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, is one of the co-sponsors. “The Seattle people strongly support quality transit. That bill would give them another tool to build the transportation system they want, ”Chopp said in a statement.

Alex Hudson, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, said in the age of global warming and public mobility requests, “I realize we have come to a point where all ideas and creative thinking should be on the table.”

However, Mariya Frost, transportation analyst for the Washington Policy Center, wrote that “Rescuing Sound Transit with more tax revenue is not an incentive for the agency to be more efficient with public money.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan said she was not in favor of immediate election action shortly after the citywide vote last fall for a sales tax in support of frequent Seattle buses and free student tickets.

Before making another tax inquiry, more research is needed to confirm actual ST3 costs and seek technical ideas to deliver parts of the Seattle 12 miles cheaper.

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle and chair of the House Local Government Committee, said he was inclined to vote “yes” on the committee on Monday to move the bill forward.

But just yet. “It’s a mess,” he said.

Pollet said he would make a change on Monday to cap any new Seattle road tax to $ 55 per $ 10,000 vehicle value – based on real market value, not the ST3 depreciation plan, which increases vehicle values ​​by at least 25% .

Pollet also wants clarity about property taxes so that they don’t affect the financing of affordable housing and schools. He stressed the city that lawmakers, public prosecutors and Sound Transit had not yet checked HB 1304.

“If you can’t answer how much money this will bring and how much it will take, you have a lot to do,” he said.

Even so, Pollet said he appreciated what the money raised in Seattle could one day do, like a train through his district from Crown Hill to Greenwood to Northgate.