Bill gives Community Transit ability to raise tax rate
Additional revenue could bring back Sunday service
EVERETT - A bill progressing through the Legislature could help Community Transit bring back Sunday bus service.
Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, is sponsoring a bill that would allow Community Transit to ask voters for a temporary four-year sales tax hike. The tax could be for up to three-tenths of one cent, meaning the tax would add 3 cents to a $10 purchase if voters approve.
The Senate bill passed through the Transportation Committee and will be introduced on the Senate floor soon. A similar bill in the House is being led by Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo.
The agency is at its maximum taxing limit of nine-tenths of one cent. It cut Sunday service in 2010 because of plummeting sales tax revenue created by the recession. Sales taxes make up 60 percent of the agency’s funding.
Transit agency spokesman Martin Munguia couldn’t say the agency’s board would automatically authorize a sales tax proposition for the ballot.
“Any proposition costs money,” Munguia said. “Our board members are all politicians and it would have to be something for them to consider.”
The sales tax increase could bring in enough to fund Sunday service, Munguia said. Sunday service costs $5 to $6 million a year to operate.
Harper’s bill is one of about six trying to push more money to transit agencies. Other bills are broader and many are not agency-specific.
Legislators changed Harper’s bill to use a sales tax increase because they balked at increasing the state’s motor vehicle excise tax to support transit.
Community Transit asked lawmakers to ask voters for a 1 percent motor vehicle excise tax increase earlier this year.
When Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695 slashed the state vehicle excise tax in 1999, Community Transit’s revenues plummeted 30 percent and it had to cancel weekend service, Munguia said. The agency won a proposition the following year to increase its sales tax rate to the nine-tenths of one cent, which allowed it to restart Saturday and Sunday service.
Community Transit is one agency eligible to ask for the added tax limit in Harper’s bill.
The bill does “not apply to other transit agencies due to the population thresholds set forth in the bill,” Harper’s spokesman Aaron Wasser said.
Community Transit has raised fares three times to make up for sales tax revenue losses, most recently in February. It’s also made numerous route reductions to respond to the losses.
Sales taxes represented 75 percent of the agency’s revenue before the recession, Munguia said. It represents 60 percent now.
Before it ended in 2010, Sunday service had an average of 8,000 weekly riders, Munguia said.
The weekday ridership average was about 35,000 riders during the same time period. Saturdays had about 12,000 riders, Munguia said.
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