Half-percent sales-tax increase to support transit starts today

LYNNWOOD — The day has come.

A sales-tax hike across south Snohomish County is coming to a cash register near you. Effective Saturday, it places the region among the nation’s highest for sales tax.

The increase comes from a half-percent sales-tax hike that generates revenue for the Sound Transit 3 rail and bus expansion, which in Snohomish County applies to urban areas from Everett south to the county line. Voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties agreed to the jump in November’s general election to raise $54 billion for regional transit.

The tax package included a car tab increase. It caused sticker shock for many motorists when they received their renewal bills after that hike took effect March 1. The tax package also adds 25 cents in property tax per $1,000 in assessed value.

Mill Creek and Lynnwood now top the list of the state’s cities with the highest sales tax rate, according to the state Department of Revenue. Lynnwood also has a voter-approved one-tenth of 1 percent tax increase to pay for road projects that also takes effect Saturday. The 10-year measure is expected to raise about $2 million annually.

Both cities’ sales tax rate now stands at 10.4 percent. That means shoppers will have $10.40 in taxes tacked on at the register for every $100 they spend. The taxes can cover everything from a Hallmark card to a sectional.

“The smaller priced items may not be as noticeable,” said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue. “It’s the pricier ones that will be.”

Lynnwood and Mill Creek officials have said that the higher sales tax rate should be taken in context of overall tax bills.

“For many years, Lynnwood has had lower property tax levels than our neighbors,” said Julie Moore, a spokeswoman for that city.

It is also important to remember that increases in the sales tax in recent years involved voter-approved tax measures, she said. Besides Sound Transit 3, voters in an area covering most of Snohomish County approved a sales tax increase in 2015 to support Community Transit’s maintenance and expansion of services.

Sales tax rates in Brier, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway are now 10.3 percent. The same rate applies to the part of Bothell that is on the Snohomish County side of the line.

The ST3 sales tax increase actually failed in Mill Creek, but the area must pay because it is part of the overall taxing district. It is not alone. Overwhelming support in King County ensured its passage, even though a solid majority of Pierce County voters turned it down.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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