Seattle mayor proposes tax hike to limit cuts to bus service

Tue May 13, 2014 7:17pm EDT

Ed Murray addresses the crowd after being sworn in as Mayor of Seattle at City Hall in Seattle, Washington January 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Ryder

Ed Murray addresses the crowd after being sworn in as Mayor of Seattle at City Hall in Seattle, Washington January 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/David Ryder

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(Reuters) - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, looking to push his left-leaning policies despite resistance from more conservative suburban residents, on Tuesday proposed a citywide vote on tax hikes to stave off cuts to bus services.

In a countywide vote last month for the same tax structure, Seattle voted overwhelmingly in favor but was outnumbered by a suburban and rural electorate that voted it down.

Murray's proposal, which includes a $60 annual car license fee and a 0.1 percent increase in the city's sales tax, is an alternative to a plan put forward last week by activists to restore funding through a hike in the property tax, a mechanism the mayor said he wants to preserve for a planned push to provide universal access to pre-kindergarten.

The effort marks the latest attempt by Murray to forge his own liberal way forward on policies ranging from a $15 hourly minimum wage to finding a new chief for his city's embattled police department.

Without local intervention, King County's Metro Transit system is poised to eliminate 72 bus routes and cut its overall service by 16 percent, in a harsh reckoning with years of lackluster sales tax receipts and political gridlock at the state capitol that has limited its funding options.

"We must act to preserve bus service in the city and on key intercity routes," Murray said in a statement. "And we know that this is what Seattle wants: two-thirds of voters in last month's election said so loud and clear."

Earlier this year, Seattle-area state lawmakers sought to get state legislative approval for King County to put before voters a more progressive transit-funding tax linked to the value of the taxpayer's vehicle. That effort, tied to a stalled statewide road funding package, died in the state legislature.

The cuts to King County bus routes, set to start taking effect in September, are not unique. In recent years, Snohomish and Pierce counties have made large-scale cuts to their bus systems, in a trend that critics say disproportionately harms the working poor.

Over the past five years, King County Metro Transit has cut more than 100 jobs and raised fares four times to counter what it says is a $1.2 billion shortfall in sales tax receipts and a projected annual deficit of up to $75 million.

With approval from the Seattle City Council, Murray's tax proposal will appear on the November ballot.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Andrew Hay)

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