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Pierce Transit would get new taxing authority under Rep. Marko Liias bill

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm | 19 Comments »
January 25, 2011 5:00 pm

Voters could decide next month to pay more in sales tax to keep bus service steady in Pierce County (Kris Sherman’s weekend story has the details). But what happens if they reject Proposition 1?

Cuts, cuts and more cuts, Pierce Transit says. But there’s an outside chance the Legislature could provide them with another option.

House Bill 1536 would give struggling transit agencies in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties access to a tax that wouldn’t require voter approval.

Through 2013, the agencies could collect a “congestion reduction charge” from drivers of up to $30 each time they renew their car tabs. Agencies would have to put together a congestion plan.

Democratic Rep. Marko Liias put out a news release about his bill that quotes the leaders of Community Transit in Snohomish and Metro Transit in King. Unsurprisingly given the upcoming vote, no one from Pierce Transit chimes in.

I asked Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson about it. He stopped short of guaranteeing the agency wouldn’t use the option, but said it is “focused” on securing a more permanent (and likely much larger) revenue source with Proposition 1’s three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase.

“Any kind of option that would diversify funding is important, but for us, we’re really focused on our long term sustainable funding,” Erickson said.

Unlike Pierce Transit, which is trying to move up to the maximum sales tax it can legally take in, nine-tenths of a cent, Metro and Community transit are both already at that ceiling. They say they still need more money, and this bill would bring in up to $38 million for Metro Transit alone, according to Liias.

Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond made the case for it in the news release:

This new funding source will help offset Metro’s shortfall until a sustainable longer-term statewide funding solution is developed. This temporary bridge funding will help us preserve bus service, which will be critical in supporting access to jobs as the region’s economy improves.

Similar efforts by Liias have failed in past years. This time, the bill has an impressive list of more than 30 cosponsors, including transportation chairwoman Judy Clibborn and the top Republican for transportation, Rep. Mike Armstrong.

Tim Eyman slammed the bill in a news release, saying authorizing more tax revenue is “arrogant and disrespectful of the voters” considering they rejected taxes last November.

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