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Seattle sales tax increase headed to November ballot

A King County Metro bus for essential trips only passes by The Spheres at the Amazon campus on April 30, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Seattle voters will be asked to tax themselves even more for bus service in November. The sales tax plan has passed the Seattle City Council and is headed toward the ballot.

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City residents currently pay $60 in car tab fees and a 0.1% sales tax for the existing Seattle Transportation Benefit District. It raises about $56 million a year for transit service Seattle buys from King County Metro.

Voters will be asked to up the sales tax portion of the funding to 0.15%, but it would eliminate the $60 car tab fee dedicated to transit. It would continue to charge the standard $20 tab fee that goes to maintenance. This would bring in about $42 million a year.

Council member Alex Pederson sponsored the plan.

“This is a good day for public transit,” Pederson said. “Many were concerned that with the turmoil and uncertainty of the COVID pandemic and economic recession, we might not be able to renew the funding for this Transportation Benefit District.”

The council chose not to continue the $60 car tab portion of the bill, considering the lawsuit over the voter-approved I-976, which guarantees $30 tabs.

“I think we can all agree that it’s disappointing that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, which was rejected by a whopping 76% of Seattle voters, has removed approximately half of the funding source,” Pederson said.  “We hope to overturn that measure in the courts. If we do overturn I-976, I support doubling the car tab revenues that we are allowed to increase as a council.”

That could boost the standard $20 tabs to $50. This would not require a new vote from the public.

King County Metro could lose nearly half-billion dollars over COVID-19

Even if voters approve this sales tax increase, bus riders will likely continue to see cuts in Metro service. That agency is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales tax revenue because of the pandemic, and is planning a 15% cut in service in September.

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