Seattle City Council sends historic $1.55 billion transportation levy to voters

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon a request to voters for the largest property tax increase in the city’s history.

The $1.55 billion, eight-year transportation levy replaces the 2015 “Move Seattle” levy and increases property taxes on the average home by 70%.

The city council indicated that the emphasis in the negotiations on the levy was on basic infrastructure, such as sidewalks, resurfacing of roads and maintaining bridges, which are activities that cannot be carried out within the current budget.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s original proposal called for a $1.35 billion plan before he refined it after public comment. City Council Transportation Committee Chairman Rob Saka added more to the proposal to arrive at the final figure.

Saka’s committee passed the legislation unanimously last week, so Tuesday’s vote is seen as nothing more than a rubber stamp, barring a surprise. Harrell is scheduled to sign the legislation on Wednesday to send it to voters in the fall.

Saka and other council members have suggested that public polls have shown voters are willing to spend a lot of money on the transportation improvements and would support them in greater numbers. Opponents have argued that it will further hurt affordability in Seattle and that landlords will pass the increase on to renters.

A last-minute amendment was also approved to use $20 million of the levy to complete the Burke Gilman Trail.

RELATED | Seattle Councilman Proposes $1.55 Billion Transportation Tax

Saka’s proposal, approved Tuesday, calls for investing the $1.55 billion in transportation taxes in the following ways:

  • $403 million in street maintenance and modernization
  • $221 million in bridge infrastructure and safety
  • $193 million for pedestrian safety
  • $160.5 million in Vision Zero and school and community safety
  • $151 million to improve transit corridors and connections
  • $133.5 million for bicycle safety
  • $100 million to install and maintain traffic lights and improve mobility
  • $69 million to better address climate change, protect the environment and expand our tree cover
  • $66.5 million to activate public spaces, neighborhoods and business districts
  • $45 million for economy-focused improvements to our freight transportation system
  • $7.5 million for good governance, oversight and education on property tax relief

Alex Pedersen, a former Seattle City Councilman and chairman of the Transportation Committee, criticized the proposal, comparing it to one of the worst disasters in world history.

“This burdensome transportation tax increase is like the Titanic — too big, hardest on the poor, and doomed to let everyone down,” Pedersen said in a statement. “It is insensitive of politicians to act as cheerleaders for such a massive transportation tax increase while renters, homeowners, and small businesses struggle to stay in Seattle. Why would anyone want to pay more than $500 a year to have SDOT make traffic congestion worse, leave most roads in poor condition, and fail to repair dangerous bridges?

“No matter how lobbyists try to disguise the largest tax in Seattle’s history, it is up to voters to reject City Hall’s unaffordable, unfair and ineffective transportation levy and send it back to the drawing board,” Petersen said in his statement.

Harrell will sign the legislation at a press conference Wednesday morning, officially putting the tax on the November ballot.

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