Mukilteo mayor pushes for Community Transit tax hike

A newly formed political committee led by Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson is leading the effort to pass Community Transit’s sales tax hike measure this fall.

Gregerson is serving as campaign manager for Community Transit Now, the political committee supporting passage of Proposition 1 in the Nov. 3 election.

The measure seeks to boost the sales tax by 0.3 percent, or 3 cents for every $10 spent in jurisdictions served by the agency. It needs a simple majority of the vote to pass.

The increase would cost an average Snohomish County adult about $33 a year while generating about $25 million a year for Community Transit to spend on expanding existing services and adding new buses and routes.

“I really believe in the proposal,” Gregerson said Thursday of her decision to assume the leadership role. “It is the tool that Community Transit has and I think people really understand public transit makes a difference.”

State Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, who works for Gregerson at the city of Mukilteo, and businesswoman Crystal Donner are co-chairs of the committee, which includes representatives of labor unions, environmental groups, the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County and United Way of Snohomish County.

No organized opposition group has surfaced.

However, Jeff Scherrer, of Edmonds, and Nathan Shelby, of Marysville, did submit a statement opposing the measure for inclusion in the voter pamphlet.

They contend the sales tax increase should be rejected because it will hit working families hardest. And they argue Community Transit needs to do a better job managing the tax dollars it now collects before asking taxpayers for more of their money.

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 would not see the rise in sales tax if it is approved.

The transit agency’s board of directors approved the measure July 16. That was the day after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a new transportation law containing a provision for Community Transit to seek voter approval of a tax increase.

That provision “is something I’ve championed for six years in the Legislature,” Liias said. “I want to see it through.”

Neither he nor Gregerson said how much money they hope to raise for the campaign. Both said the campaign will mostly involve volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls to voters. They hope to have enough money to send out some mailers.

“Our goal is to raise enough funds to make the public aware that this is about adding transit services, which we know is what they want,” Liias said. “We’ll be getting a lot of new stuff for the $3 a month.”

Community Transit leaders say if Proposition 1 is passed, the new dollars will go to add trips on existing routes to reduce wait times between buses. Service hours will be extended in the evenings and weekends and a second Swift rapid transit line would be added between Boeing and Canyon Park

According to the agency, voters were last asked to increase the sales tax in 2001. That time it was to make up for losing motor vehicle excise tax funding following passage of Initiative 695. The agency’s last tax increase for more service was in 1990.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, who sits on the transit agency board, said it was important to let the voters decide.

“You give voters a choice. Do they view Community Transit as something that is valuable, whether they use it or not, to get cars off the freeway and maybe make their commute quicker. Folks will let us know if they want to do it.”

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

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