Editor's note: This post was originally published at 1 pm. It has been updated and reposted.
While the press was focusing on Jan Drago's appointment to the King County Council yesterday, we all (with the exception of Seattle Transit Blog) missed another significant piece of council business: A new transportation benefits, or taxing, district to fund a replacement for the crumbling South Park Bridge and other projects in unincorporated King County. The TBD could charge a license fee of up to $20 (or up to $100 with voter approval). Council staff estimate the $20 fee would raise as much as $5.5 million a year. The fee would only affect residents of unincorporated King County.
As I mentioned yesterday, King County is seeking $99 million federal stimulus money to replace the South Park Bridge, which is 78 years old and in poor repair. (The total cost of replacing the bridge, which links South Park and Georgetown, is estimated at $150 million.) However, several members of the Seattle City Council have advocated for federal stimulus dollars to go to city projects instead, including the $300 million Mercer project. Newly appointed county council member Jan Drago did not sign a letter supporting South Park Bridge stimulus funding when she was on the city council.
Yesterday's vote doesn't authorize the tax; it just creates a new taxing district where the council could enact a tax in the future.
The fate of that tax could hang on the vote of newly appointed county council member Jan Drago, who has opposed South Park Bridge funding in the past. Republican council members, including Reagan Dunn, expressed concern about passing a new tax and about whether the money would be distributed fairly through unincorporated King County; Dunn also noted that, as the only member of the council who lives in unincorporated King County, "I would be the only one up here who actually has to pay this tax."
Drago says she now supports federal funding for the South Park Bridge. "I’m representing District 8 of the county council, and their interests are different than the city’s interests," Drago says. However, she said council members' concerns about adding new taxes were "absolutely legitimate on both sides—the Democrats and the Republicans."