Ballot measure would raise $25M for more CT bus service

Voters in much of Snohomish County are being asked to approve a sales-tax hike to support Community Transit.

The 0.3 percent increase is the equivalent of adding 3 cents to the price of a $10 purchase. The Nov. 3 ballot proposal aims to generate $25 million per year in new revenue.

“I think that it’s a really important investment,” said Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, who’s leading the campaign to support the measure. “We’re a growing community. We really can’t build enough roads to solve our congestion problems. We have to look to other alternatives.”

About a third of the new revenue would go to improve existing routes with extra buses and expanded hours. That would include congested commuter routes.

Another third would pay for a second Swift rapid bus line between Paine Field and Bothell’s Canyon Park area. The new Swift route would be modeled on the one that runs along Highway 99.

A final third of the revenue would support new bus routes, including commuter trips to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington. More connections between the I-5 corridor and eastern Snohomish County would be added, as well as routes to job, housing and educational centers in Arlington, Stanwood and Monroe. New routes along Highway 9 between Marysville and Snohomish are proposed as well.

Community Transit’s current share of sales tax is 0.9 percent. Its district covers most of Snohomish County’s urban areas with the notable exception of Everett, which is served by Everett Transit. Much of the Highway 9 corridor also lies outside CT’s district.

The proposed increase would push CT’s share of sales taxes to 1.2 percent. Sales tax is the agency’s only source of public funds, other than grants.

Supporters of the increase include Economic Alliance Snohomish County and the United Way of Snohomish County.

Opponents say CT should better manage its existing budget before seeking more money.

“It isn’t necessarily that we shouldn’t be subsidizing mass transit,” said Jeff Scherrer, a Lynnwood resident who helped draft the opposing statement for voters pamphlets. “It’s that we shouldn’t be subsidizing mass transit at the level they’re asking us to.”

Scherrer points to figures showing that CT spent an average of $9.10 per passenger trip in 2013. That’s about twice what it cost King County Metro or Pierce Transit.

Martin Munguia, a CT spokesman, said Scherrer’s numbers are accurate, but misleading.

The opponents’ figure ignores the fact that because of Everett Transit, CT does not serve the largest, densest city in its community, Munguia said. CT’s mission includes farther-flung, smaller communities and reaching them costs more money.

“We’re serving smaller communities at further distances,” Munguia said. “We just don’t have the density of ridership that Seattle or Bellevue or Tacoma do.”

CT’s per-mile costs are a better indicator of the agency’s efficiency, he said, and those figures are in line with Metro’s and Pierce Transit’s.

Scherrer has other reasons for opposing CT’s request. He notes that the higher tax won’t have a sunset date. And more transit related taxes are around the corner.

“Looking into the future, we should realize that next year Sound Transit will be coming to us with a tax increase,” he said. “They’ll be looking for $15 billion.”

Sound Transit is likely to ask voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties for permission to collect that money through a combination of higher property tax, sales tax and car-tab fees. The money would likely pay for light-rail expansion to Everett, Redmond, Ballard, West Seattle and Tacoma, as well as new express bus lines. Details are still being worked out, so it is unknown how much Snohomish County might benefit.

CT plans to reconfigure its bus lines once Sound Transit light rail reaches Snohomish County in 2023. The light-rail expansion includes stops in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

Community Transit has not asked voters for a sales tax increase since 2001, after Initiative 695 capped car tab fees at $30. That money helped make up for the 30 percent of revenues the agency lost as a result of I-695. The initiative was overturned in court, but the legislature enacted the tax cut anyway.

The last time Community Transit received a tax increase to expand service was in 1990.

Ballots for the Nov. 3 election were mailed Thursday. They must be postmarked by election day or deposited in an official ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that evening.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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