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Pierce Transit map change appears doomed in Senate — at least unless there’s a transportation tax package

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 5, 2013 at 9:00 am with No Comments »
March 5, 2013 11:35 am
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima

A key Republican in the state Senate is balking at a proposal to let Pierce Transit draw a special district where it could restore some bus service if voters go along with paying a higher sales tax.

Transportation Committee Co-Chairman Curtis King of Yakima said he told the bill’s supporters: “As far as the Senate is concerned, that bill is dead.”

It’s not looking good, either, for the measures that would let King County’s Metro Transit, Snohomish County’s Community Transit and cities across the state raise new transportation taxes. King says his problem with the Pierce Transit measure is really a more general problem with the local-option transportation taxes: they all pile up, and could leave voters too fatigued to approve a big statewide transportation-tax package.

Not that King is pushing for such a tax package right now. “I just don’t think the people of the state are ready to give us more of their money,” he said. Like other Republicans, he wants changes to how transportation money is spent before taxes are raised. But he does agree the state’s transportation grid has major funding needs, and worries voters will be less likely to support new taxes to pay for them statewide if they have just seen taxes go up around their homes in Puget Sound.

“Nothing is ever dead,” he acknowledged of the local-option proposals, “but they may be on life support.” As co-chairman, King can essentially veto any legislation from passing through his committee.

The Pierce Transit measure could always be revived as part of last-minute negotiations over a transportation tax package — if lawmakers were to go ahead with one. They would be bucking both the GOP resistance and recent poll results showing voter opposition to new taxes.

A Tacoma Democrat who sponsored the Pierce Transit bill, Sen. Jeannie Darneille, said Tacoma residents who voted for an extra three-tenths of a cent in Pierce Transit sales tax during two narrow defeats should be allowed to restore some of their service. But she said worries about cherry-picking voters helped doom the bill.

She said bringing it forward helped lawmakers outside Pierce County recognize the “catastrophic” cuts Pierce Transit is facing. “It was an option worth floating,” she said.

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