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Seattle Voters OK Sales Tax Hike For Transit District

By Abraham Gross · Nov 4, 2020, 1:37 AM EST

Seattle voters approved an increased sales tax for an additional six years Tuesday by passing Proposition 1, which will fund the Seattle Transportation Benefit District and sustain travel services amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The ballot measure replaces the current 0.1% sales tax, which expires Dec. 31 with an 0.15% tax that lasts until April 1, 2027, six years from the date when collections of the new rate would begin. The tax will fund the transportation benefit district that supports Seattle-area transit services.

As of late Tuesday, the measure was approved 81.6% to 18.4% with an estimated 93% of the votes reported. 

Seattle Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan originally proposed extending the existing 0.1% tax rate, but the City Council in July unanimously approved a higher rate to be placed on the ballot. The tax is projected to raise $30 million to $45 million in annual revenue for transit and transportation services in King County. Seattle is in King County.

The revenue will be directed to increasing transit access, infrastructure maintenance and improvements and new transit needs related to the effects of the pandemic. The rate increase is projected to raise an additional $14 million annually to offset some transportation cuts caused by decreased fare revenue from lower ridership numbers.

Though the transit system is now guaranteed extra funding, city officials who supported the measure had expressed concerns about transportation funding using a sales tax. Durkan and City Council President M. Lorena González had called the method a "regressive and flawed revenue tool."

The ballot measure is partly a response to the 2019 election, when voters in most counties outside Seattle approved Initiative 976, which would have eliminated various vehicle fees, including those funding transportation services in the Seattle area. Seattle and King County challenged I-976, and on Oct. 15, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the measure as unconstitutional.

The court's decision was a victory for transportation and transit proponents, especially in the greater Seattle area, but the state is still facing funding hurdles because of the pandemic and the dual effects of reduced ridership and travel amid a weakened economy.

A September forecast by the Washington Office of Financial Management set state transportation revenue for the 2019-2021 biennium without the effects of I-976 at $6.15 billion, $580.33 million or 8.62% less than what was projected in February.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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