The Washington State Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony yesterday on SB 5793, which would allow for the creation of "enhanced public transportation zones" (described in the last post). Briefly, this zone would allow remaining sales tax authority Pierce Transit has (up to an additional 0.3%), to be levied within a smaller area than the entire taxing district. If such tax authority were approved by the voters, riders would see additional service hours (or offset cuts) only within that zone. The additional revenue would remain in place for five years before requiring reauthorization. The video below starts with the hearing of the bill.
|Sen. Jeannie Darnielle, Tacoma (D-27)|
At the hearing, Senator Jeannie Darnielle (D-27), the bill's sponsor in the Senate, spoke eloquently about the impact of transit cuts on people who are very low income and those with disabilities. She drew a parallel between this bill and a previous bill passed by the legislature that enabled the City of Tacoma to enact a 0.1% sales tax for mental health services when the Pierce County Council snubbed using such authority for that purpose.
The Senator highlighted the fact that such a zone would target areas for service that have higher low income and minority populations, to serve those in the most need. She held up a map that showed high levels of need, high ridership, and high voter support - notably the 27th and 29th legislative districts. For those outside of Pierce County, Districts 27 and 29 are mostly Tacoma proper with some unincorporated Pierce County. "If this is approved, we'll see a restoration of service [in the zone]," she said.
Ten people testified in total (all in favor), including Tacoma Councilmember and Pierce Transit Board Member Lauren Walker, Tacoma Councilmember Ryan Mello, Pierce Transit CEO Lynne Griffith, Gig Harbor Councilmember Derek Young, and Tacoma Area Coalition for Individuals with Disabilities Executive Director and fellow CTAG member Ken Gibson. Counsel for Pierce Transit indicated that one reason why this legislation is being pursued besides Tacoma TBD funding is that "transit needs transcend city borders." Eleven others who did not speak signed in, an additional ten in favor, with Mike Ennis from the Association of Washington Business being opposed.
Ryan Mello talked a lot about the returns for transit in the last two elections, citing a 56% passage rate in Tacoma proper for Prop 1 as well as one precinct that voted over 85% in favor in Tacoma. Mr. Mello also drew the connection between economic justice and transit service, "This allows workers to keep more disposable income in their pocket."
Derek Young highlighted how this bill would enable "local control" of tax authority, and even though Gig Harbor and other small cities may not participate, he still supports this bill as a member of the Pierce Transit Board.
Lawmakers had several comments about the legislation - including the perennial concern about sales taxes being raised from individuals who live outside the district but shop at the Tacoma Mall for example. It's a misdirected attack at the transit agency for attempting to use the only large scale financing tool available at its disposal. Other comments included the need to put this measure in cost-savings versus private medical transport costs that would fall on families and the State.
No hearing on the companion bill has been set in the House.