Companies, unions were big backers of Community Transit measure

The political committee behind Community Transit’s successful sales tax measure received the bulk of its funding from companies and unions likely to benefit most when the new tax dollars start rolling in.

Community Transit Now raised $93,545 in cash contributions for its campaign to pass Proposition 1 that will boost the sales tax by 0.3 percent throughout the transit district’s jurisdiction.

That increase will go into effect next April and generate about $25 million a year for Community Transit to spend on expanding existing service and adding new buses and routes.

“We are about to embark on one of the most exciting times in this agency’s history, and every one of us is an essential part of it,” Chief Executive Officer Emmett Heath wrote in a Nov. 10 memo to Community Transit employees. “Whether you voted for the proposition or not, and whether you use public transit or not, we plan to deliver a better transportation experience for all residents.”

They’ve reached this moment in part because of the campaign bankrolled by the builders and drivers of the district buses, and the firms involved in planning routes and maintaining commuter services.

Alexander Dennis Inc. builders of the Double-Tall double-decker buses, and Gillig Corp., manufacturers of the 30-foot buses, each contributed $25,000, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

First Transit, which does commuter service planning, donated $15,000 and Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm which conducted a feasibility study for a second Swift bus rapid transit line, gave $5,000 to the campaign, records show.

Workers put up money too. Two locals of the Amalgamated Transit Union – which represents the bus drivers – provided a total of $9,500.

And Community Transit employees put in at least $4,250; it might be more, because not all donors listed their employer on records posted online. That total includes $550 from Heath and $900 from Todd Morrow, the district’s chief of strategic operations.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, who served as campaign manager, said the funds paid for mailers and robocalls. The campaign mostly targeted voters in south Snohomish County, she said.

The measure was passing with 51.1 percent of the vote Tuesday. There was no organized opposition.

“We feel we reached the right people with the right message,” she said. “A sales tax can be a tough vote to take.”

Community Transit runs buses, the Swift bus rapid transit line and paratransit services in most of Snohomish County. The city of Everett is not within the service area and will not see the rise in sales tax.

The increase will take effect in April with the new revenue arriving starting in June.

With passage of the sales tax hike assured, Community Transit plans to use reserve funds to pay for about 3,300 hours of new service starting March 13, 2016. Another more substantial service increase is expected in September.

That change “will require us to increase our workforce – we will need more drivers, mechanics and other important positions,” Heath told employees.

There also will be money for a second Swift bus rapid transit line between Paine Field and Canyon Park in Bothell. Community Transit will seek federal grants to buy buses and build the stations, according to Heath.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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