Remember all that controversy last year over granting King County the authority to impose a measly two-year $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) in order to stave off massive cuts to Metro bus service? The council eventually got the taxing authority, although with a two-thirds supermajority string attacked, and after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Republicans Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert crossed over to vote for approval.
The $20 fee raises about $25 million, which along with Metro's remaining reserves is just enough to fill the $60 million annual budget hole left by declining sales tax revenues. But it's only temporary—a stopgap measure intended to help Metro tread water until a more sustainable revenue alternative could be devised.
Just such a local transportation revenue bill has been wending its way through Olympia this session in the form of SB 6582, which among other things, would allow King County to levy a 1 percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) to fund Metro and other transportation needs. As the House version of the bill currently reads, King County would keep 62.5 percent of the approximately $100 million a year raised, with the other 37.5 percent being distributed to cities and towns on a per capita basis.
That formula would leave just enough money to close Metro's operating deficit, though with little left over for expansion. But according to Bill LaBorde in Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen's office, it might also drive an additional $15 million into city coffers, money that would likely be prioritized toward funding our yawning transportation maintenance backlog.
That would be roughly equivalent to raising Seattle's own VLF by an additional $45. Give or take.
Best of all, as the latest iteration of the House bill has it, the King County Council could approve this MVET by a simple majority vote, without having to put it before voters. (Though only King County has this option—other counties must put it to voters.)
Good news for Metro riders... assuming these provisions manage to make it through the House as well as a return trip through the much more hostile Senate. The version passed by the Senate did not provide for councilmanic approval, and it still only passed by one vote. Whether Democrats can get their conservative members on board to give King County the local taxing authority necessary to provide the transportation services we need, remains to be seen.