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: