King County officials no longer plan to pursue a regional sales tax measure to fund bus service this year, as they focus instead on responding to the coronavirus outbreak and its mounting economic repercussions, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said Monday.
Balducci told advocates in an email that current events “make a countywide August ballot measure unrealistic at this time.”
Seattle could still push for a city-only tax package, as Mayor Jenny Durkan said last month she planned to do. But the spread of the coronavirus has upended some local government meetings and processes and has already brought major economic uncertainty that could make a tax vote less palatable.
Durkan previously said the city was ready to begin considering a tax package by March 18. The Mayor’s Office “is continuing to work closely with our City Council and the Seattle Department of Transportation on evaluating all available 2020 renewal options for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District,” said spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg in an emailed statement Monday.
For a measure to appear on the August ballot, lawmakers would need to approve it by May 8.
Today, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District uses a 0.1% sales tax and $60 car-tab fee to fund King County Metro bus service and transit passes for public high school students and some public housing residents. That funding, set to expire at the end of this year, funds about 10% of Metro’s service hours, according to the agency.
The car-tab fee is in legal limbo because of Initiative 976, but some sort of renewal using other tax sources had been widely expected.
Responding to the coronavirus will tax local government resources, and social distancing measures are already steeply driving down transit ridership. Metro relies heavily on the sales tax, which is likely to take a hit as local businesses close.
“Just even talking about the idea of asking the voters to raise sales tax at a time when so much economic hardship is coming because of the virus just didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” Balducci said in an interview.