Council keeps full-strength Move Seattle levy, adds extra safety emphasis

Council added Accessible Mount Baker and I-5 crossing improvements between Wallingford and the U District to this map.

Council added Accessible Mount Baker, I-5 crossing improvements between Wallingford and the U District, and (maybe) short-term Ballard Bridge improvements to this map.

The Seattle City Council is only one step away from sending a nine-year, $930 million property tax levy for transportation to voters in November.

Mayor Ed Murray’s Move Seattle levy made it through the Council’s special committee shaping the measure mostly unscathed. All Councilmembers are part of that committee, so it’s very likely that their amended version of the ballot measure will pass it’s scheduled June 29 Council vote. From there, the city will send it to King County for inclusion on the ballot.

After much debate in recent weeks, attempts by Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant to replace part of the property tax with an employee hours tax, commercial parking tax and developer impact fees did not pass. So the full levy will be paid by property taxes, both residential and commercial.

The failed amendments were intended to make the levy more progressive, moving some of the burden from lower-income populations. However, there is some disagreement about how much more progressive those other options would really be, as Erica Barnett argued in a Seattle Transit Blog post.

The big question still floating out there (and worthy of much more investigation than I can fit here) is how such a property tax increase will affect the rental market. Since most low-income people are renters and affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges in the city, this is important to answer when debating the November vote. While common sense might say that any property owner will pass their cost increases to renters, rentals exist in a market where — in theory — demand shapes prices rather than landlords.

The average home will see a tax increase of about $12 per month if Move Seattle passes. When you include the city’s existing transportation budget and the grant leveraging forecast, the total Seattle transportation investment level in the next nine years could actually be closer to $1.8 billion. That’s definitely worth $12 per month, whether it gets passed down to renters or not.

Council changes to the levy

The Council did make some changes to the mayor’s levy. If you want to dig through the language yourself, there are links to each amendment in this PDF. Here are the ones that passed (PDFs): 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (as amended), 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 (as amended), 17 and 19.

Here are some highlights:

  • In the first three years of the levy, we’ll make sure the walk zones of the schools with the most low-income students are prioritized. Those schools include: Bailey Gatzert, Martin Luther King, Jr., West Seattle, Dunlap, Dearborn Park, Wing Luke, Northgate, Van Asselt, Emerson, Concord, Rainier View, Roxhill. Sponsored by Burgess.
  • For $11–12 per month, you help make $1.8 billion in transportation investments possible, according to a revised spending breakdown. Sponsored by Burgess.
  • If the $20 million Lander Street overpass does not happen, that money will be directed to other freight mobility projects. Sponsored by Rasmussen.
  • I-5 crossing improvements between Wallingford and the University District/Brooklyn Station were added, thanks in large part to persistent work by Wallyhood. Sponsored by Godden.
  • Of the funding for bridges and structures, up to $10 million will be available for immediate fixes. This doesn’t specifically mention the Ballard Bridge, but that’s a likely recipient. As Councilmember Mike O’Brien put it, these “short-term fixes that might end up lasting a while.” Sponsored by O’Brien.
  • Directs $2 million from the Bike Master Plan money and $2 million from the Pedestrian Master Plan money to go to the Accessible Mount Baker project. Sponsored by Harrell.
  • A new whereas clause clarifies that the most-needed Safe Routes to School may sometimes include streets and crossings in neighborhoods that are not directly adjacent to school buildings themselves. The investments should go where they’re needed most. Sponsored by Bagshaw.
  • UPDATE: In the comments, Gordon Padelford from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways pointed out this bit I missed: “One key thing that’s missing from this summary is part of Burgess’ amendment that makes major projects evaluate their effect on Vision Zero, Safety Routes to School, and the Race and Social Justice Initiative. Only time will tell what impact this could have, but we believe it could be hugely important. At the very least, I believe it’s the first time the City Council has voted on Vision Zero.”

You can watch the whole meeting via Seattle Channel here:

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11 Responses to Council keeps full-strength Move Seattle levy, adds extra safety emphasis

  1. Gordon Padelford says:

    Hi Tom,

    One key thing that’s missing from this summary is part of Burgess’ amendment that makes major projects evaluate their effect on Vision Zero, Safety Routes to School, and the Race and Social Justice Initiative. Only time will tell what impact this could have, but we believe it could be hugely important. At the very least, I believe it’s the first time the City Council has voted on Vision Zero.

    Here’s the ordinance text from amendment 4:

    Section 7. The Seattle Department of Transportation shall evaluate whether and how its projects advance the goals of the following initiatives: (1) the City’s Vision Zero Plan; (2) the City’s Safe Routes to School program; and (3) the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The Seattle Department of Transportation shall provide an annual report to the City Council documenting this evaluation for (a) every freight, transit, and safety corridor project and (b) every other transportation project with a total Capital Improvement Project budget that exceeds $5 million.
    

  2. rob_kp says:

    peestrain? that sounds worse than a coal train. ;) (2nd to last bullet before the update)

  3. daihard says:

    We had a community council meeting yesterday, where Brian Dougherty from SDOT gave us a brief presentation on the Safe Way to School project for the Hazel Wolf in Pinehurst School. I was nicely surprised to hear the project includes redesigning the 15th Ave NE / Pinehurst Way / Roosevelt Way corridor that goes by the school, making the street one lane each way with buffered/protected bike lanes. That corridor has been notorious for cars flying by well over the speed limit. Hopefully the re-channelling will address the issue.

  4. Harrison Davignon says:

    What would really help is if we stop wasting money widening roads, and focus our money on bicycle riding, public transit, walking and existing roadways. For example no mater how much you widen i 5 outside of Seattle, there will still be only 2 lanes through Seattle causing a bottleneck effect and making traffic jams worse. Instead of taxing already struggling people, use money to improve infrastructure for all, instead just making things worse for everyone.

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  6. Chase says:

    I am all for these transportation improvements (daily bike commuter) but these property tax levies are too much. How many times do we keep going back to that well. $12 a month, for the average home, might not sound like a lot but when you add it on top of all the other “just $$ a month” property tax levies passed over recent years, it really adds up to a lot and makes the burden on home owners much worse.

    • Al Dimond says:

      What other well are we going to go to? We clearly need to make up for decades of insufficient maintenance. Property taxes distribute those costs in a more fair way, with respect to ability to pay, than the other options we actually have. I’ve read that some large, very valuable commercial buildings are not appropriately appraised, and it would be good to see that addressed. On the whole, this is the well where the water is sweetest.

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  8. Pingback: Council Keeps Full-Strength Move Seattle Levy, Adds Extra Safety Emphasis - Let's Move Seattle

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