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Transportation package includes new taxing authority for Pierce Transit, Tacoma

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm with No Comments »
February 21, 2013 2:33 pm
Rep. Jacob Fey D-27
Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma

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 — only to be defeated again.

House Democrats want to let the agency try with an even smaller group of voters, without shrinking its overall service area.

Their transportation bill, announced Wednesday and posted online in full today, drew headlines for its statewide taxes including an extra dime of gas tax. But it would also give local governments new authority that many of them have been asking for:

  • Cities and counties that form transportation benefit districts could charge a car-tab fee of up to $40. Right now, they are allowed to charge up to $20, which a growing number of cities such as Olympia do. Tacoma recently voted to levy the $20 fee starting this spring, but it will raise a relatively small sum: $4.1 million over two years. The city wants authority to charge up to $40. The money could be used for virtually any transportation expense. Tacoma wants it for local street repair, but could also spend it on bike lanes and trails, for example.
  • King and Snohomish county mass-transit agencies could create motor-vehicle excise taxes of 0.7 percent, on top of the proposed statewide 0.7 percent vehicle tax. Snohomish would have to get voter approval; King would not.
  • The new authority sought by Pierce Transit would let the agency designate a zone up to 49 percent of its total population to get the benefits of new 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.

The $40 car-tab fee and the Pierce Transit authority were originally put forward by Rep. Jake Fey, a Tacoma Democrat on the Transportation Committee.

Both Fey and Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said cities would be allowed to opt out of the sub-area, 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.”

If it does create a subarea, one area he said that might have the most need for restored bus routes is the Pacific Avenue corridor that runs south from downtown Tacoma.

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