Seattle's News Elixir

The Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (AKA "C-TAC III," which is pronounced, confusingly, "SeaTac 3") is wrapping up discussions about how it will recommend the city spend the proceeds---about $7 million a year---from a new $20 vehicle license fee in Seattle. And they're working on recommendations for a potential November ballot measure, which could include expanding the citywide vehicle license fee to as much as $80.

The need for new transportation spending in the city is overwhelming---even with funding from the 2007 Bridging the Gap levy, the city can't keep up on basic maintenance, much less fund things like the bike, pedestrian, and transit master plans. The bike master plan, for example, will cost around $240 million to implement; since 2007, the city has spent just $15 million. The first stage of the pedestrian master plan alone, meanwhile, will cost about $840 million; since 2007, the city has spent just $28 million on the plan.

At a forum this afternoon, CTAC members, along with representatives from SDOT and council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen's office, gave the Transportation Choices Coalition a sneak peek at what the new fees could end up paying for.

Of the $6.8 million the $20 fee would raise, CTAC members said, the vast majority---about $5 million---would go to maintaining existing roads, bike facilities, and sidewalks, as well as sweeping streets. The balance---about $1.8 million---would pay for "system improvements" like bike paths, street upgrades for buses, and new sidewalks.

The remaining $80 license fee, if it passed, would be broken down along similar lines, with most going to maintenance and the remainder paying for transportation improvements.

That, however, is a big "if." Panel members noted that they have just six weeks to get a proposal approved by the city council, which may balk at placing another big funding proposal on the ballot alongside priorities like the families and education levy, which, at $231 million, would be twice the size of the levy voters approved in 2004.

"November's tough," said Bill LaBorde, a former lobbyist for TCC who now works for Rasmussen. "It's a big challenge, especially in the context of the economy." Additionally, LaBorde said, "there's a real lack of clarity about the [anti-tunnel referendum]. ... If it's something that we know won't hurt the families and education levy and could rise above all the murky chatter about the viaduct replacement, then maybe we could get something on the ballot."

Asked why the group decided to focus on the license fee, rather than including other available revenue sources like the sales tax and the property tax, CTAC member and Downtown Seattle Association president Kate Joncas said, "We did some polling about that, and all the options poll very poorly---except the vehicle license fee."

The city council has until August 16 to put a new transportation fee on the November ballot.
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