SEATTLE — Seattle voters will be asked to approve a sales tax increase to pay for bus service, as the coronavirus pandemic forces transit budget cutbacks.
The Seattle City Council Monday voted to send a measure to the November ballot for a .15% sales tax to renew a city tax known as the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. If passed by voters, it would replace an existing .1% sales tax and $60 car-tab fee, meaning taxpayers would see car tab costs decrease and sales taxes increase next year.
The six-year measure would raise about $42 million a year for Metro bus service, transit passes for students and people with low incomes and “emergent needs” related to the pandemic and the West Seattle Bridge closure. That’s less than the $56 million a year raised last year under the current tax.
The council chose not to renew the car-tab fee because those fees are in legal limbo after statewide voters approved a initiative to lower car-tab taxes last fall.
Seattle uses the transportation benefit district money to buy bus service from King County Metro on routes that serve Seattle.
If voters approve the proposal, up to $10 million a year could be spent on programs to offer transit passes to students, people with smaller incomes and essential workers. Up to $9 million a year could be used for “emerging needs,” including West Seattle projects, and $9 million could be used for street maintenance and other improvements on bus routes. That amount would later be reduced to $3 million a year.
The ballot measure was reworked by the City Council after the mayor sent down a smaller tax.
Even if voters pass the tax, bus service cuts are likely as Metro weathers deep financial losses due to the pandemic.