Kitsap Transit pushing sales tax—again

"Remember Kitsap Transit Proposition 1 from last September? Well, expect another visit from the measure this spring. At a special meeting March 27 the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners directed transit staff to place a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase proposal on the May ballot.“We at Kitsap Transit are working under the presumption that there will be no state money for transit agencies” to replace that which was lost after the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) fund went away, said Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes. “We are also hearing from the Washington State Transit Association that we probably won’t be able to ask Kitsap voters for the local portion of the MVET on the ballot, either.”The proposed sales tax increase would raise $7.8 million, enough to retain existing services, restore most service to 1999 levels and keep up with commuter demand over the next six to 10 years.Kitsap Transit reeled from a 43 percent hit to its budget after state voters approved Initiative 695 and subsequent legislative and executive action established $30 license tabs. All told, $10.2 million of Transit’s annual budget disappeared.Since then, attainable revenue options to replace what was lost have been few and far between for Kitsap Transit, a public agency that, system-wide, proffered nearly 3.8 million rides to commuters about the peninsula throughout 2000. Case in point: The proposed $3.4 state Senate transportation budget provides no funding for public transit agencies across the state — a far cry from the governor’s budget proposal last year that called for divvying up $177 million among transit agencies over the next biennium.And word around Olympia is that Kitsap Transit and other agencies shouldn’t expect officials to collect the transit portion of the motor vehicle excise tax anytime soon, even though a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of doing so in February.Furthermore, State Attorney General Christine Gregoire is leading an appeal on that February court decision, and lawmakers, including Republican Port Orchard Sen. Bob Oke, have drafted legislation reaffirming the $30 license tabs that would quash any claim MVET can be collected at the local level.A ballot partnership between CenCom and Kitsap Transit proposed by the agencies last month also fell through, leaving the transit agency to ponder any remaining options on the table.That news has led Kitsap Transit officials, including Hayes, to believe the agency will have to look elsewhere for funds.A few other revenue ideas were, in fact, floated about the special meeting held at the Kitsap County courthouse Tuesday, but none of them made the grade among the transit board members.Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners member Chris Endresen said staff also suggested asking for a one-tenth of 1 percent and a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase in the spring, but opted for the three-tenths.Even asking for that amount leaves the agency with nearly a $2.5 million budget shortfall, she said, considering the agency actually lost more than $10 million in 1999.“It was also suggested that the agency might reduce the size of the transit district,” said Endresen, “We don’t want to do that right now, but if this proposition fails, we’ll seriously consider it again.”Last spring, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing transit agencies to ask for three-tenths of 1 percent more in the local sales tax revenue to try and recoup revenue lost with the advent of 695 and $30 license tabs.Lawmakers also secured about $3 million in bridge money for Kitsap Transit, in an effort to mitigate the transition from MVET collection to no MVET collection.Transit officials used those state funds to reinstate most Sunday service last year, and the remainder of the bridge money is being put to use throughout this year to keep existing Sunday service going, said Transit Service Development Director John Clauson.But Kitsap Transit officials and commuters are particularly worried about budget year 2002 and beyond, when the full effect of $30 license tabs will be felt, and when “bridge” money isn’t an attainable option.Washington State Transit Association Executive Director Dan Snow said transit agencies expect to lose $260 million annually as a result. Proposition 1 is expected to appear on the May 15 ballot, along with a City of Poulsbo measure that will ask voters there whether they want a city administrator or a mayor at city hall. "

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