This afternoon, the City Council voted unanimously to place a renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District on the November ballot for voter approval. But before pushing it out the door, they made a few last-minute changes.
The two big changes they made this afternoon were to increase the sales tax rate from .1% to .15% (after deciding that .2% was too high), and extending the term from four years to six — undoing a change they made last week. The increased sales tax rate was a nearly unanimous vote, with Pedersen the only “no.” Changing the length back to six year was a more divisive issue, as the Council members wrestled with how best to encourage King County to come to the table and make a regional transit benefit district while also hedging their bets in case a regional deal falling through again and/or the voters not approving a measure. In their ideal world, a regional transit benefit district would be passed by county voters in 2024, but 2020 has left many city and county officials pessimistic about their ability to predict the future. Since the Seattle Transit Benefit District measure asks voters to authorize a sales tax, but does not force the city to collect it, the Council members can have their cake and eat it too: they can simply not collect the tax in 2025 and 2026 if the regional plan comes together, or they can use the extra two years to plan their next move if it doesn’t.
Other amendments adopted today:
- An increase of the cap on how much can be spent on “emerging needs” for transit service, including changes necessary to deal with COVID-19 and the closure of the West Seattle Bridge.
- Adding essential workers to the types of low-income workers who could be issued transit passes paid for using reveues from the Transportation Benefit District.
The measure now moves to the Mayor’s Office for her signature. She may not be happy about the slight increase in the sales tax rate from what she originally proposed, but she’s unlikely to veto it — especially since it have a veto-proof majority in the Council.
The Council also passed a companion resolution stating its commitment to working with regional officials to establish a county-wide transportation benefit district.
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