This Washington

Amendments Would Save Some Transit Service

By Erica C. Barnett March 3, 2010

Two proposed amendments to legislation by Sen. Chris Marr (D-6) would allow King County Metro, Pierce Transit, and Snohomish County's Community Transit to pass a temporary tax to avoid further cuts to bus service in the three counties. (Marr's mostly technical legislation cleans up inconsistencies in a prior bill allowing cities and counties to create transportation improvement districts, or special taxing districts, to pay for transportation projects.)

The amendments—sponsored by Reps. Scott White (D-46) and Sharon Nelson (D-34) for King County and Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) for Pierce and Snohomish—would grant the three county council's the authority to either pass a $20 vehicle-license fee to pay for transit, or to put a license fee of up to $100 before voters for the same purpose. (They could also impose a $20 license fee and put a measure on the ballot, but the ballot proposal would be limited to $80).

According to the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition, transit agencies will have to make deep cuts starting next year to fill ongoing budget shortfalls. In King County, the estimated shortfall between 2010 and 2011 years will be $213 million. Snohomish County forecasts a shortfall of $180 million between now an 2013 that will force them to cut service by 15 percent. And in Pierce County, revenue shortfalls could force Pierce Transit to cut service a whopping 57 percent.

Nonetheless, transit advocates aren't terribly optimistic that the White-Nelson and Liias bills will pass. House Republicans have called for a roll call vote to draw attention to reps who vote for the amendments, and a similar stand-alone bill by Liias failed to make it to a floor vote earlier this year.

"Just because of what we've seen in this session so far, it's going to be a heavy lift," says Andrew Austin, TCC's lobbyist in Olympia. "It's kind of do or die at this point—do this, or don't do anything this session. If they don't do anything, the cuts are going to happen."

I have a call in to White to find out more about the proposed amendments.
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