Work begins on Pierce Transit sales tax

Now that voters have approved Pierce Transit’s sales-and-use tax increase of three-tenths of one percent, what does that mean for those who use and depend on bus service in Tacoma and Pierce County?

Riders can look forward to the fact that severe cuts in service won’t have to be made. In fact, some services will increase now that voters have approved the measure that will replace funds lost when the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) – which provided 38 percent of Pierce Transit’s operating budget – was eliminated by Initiative 695 in 1999.

The approximately $27 million raised by the tax will go to an increase in van pools, new parking spots at Park & Ride lots and helping Pierce Transit provide service to an increasing ridership.

Without the voter-approved tax, Pierce Transit would have been forced to drastically reduce services in 2003, including cuts in bus service, decreasing SHUTTLE service for the disabled and halting expansions of vanpool and Park & Ride projects.

It will take some time to implement the tax and for Pierce Transit to get the money, according to public relations officer Lind Simonsen.

While nothing has been officially put on the agenda yet, Simonsen noted the proposition’s approval will no doubt come up at the next Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners meeting this Monday.

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month, at 4:30 p.m., at Pierce Transit headquarters at 96th Street and South Tacoma Way.

The meetings are open to the public, Simonsen said, adding, “We’re always happy to have that.”

The passage of the proposition gives Pierce Transit the authority to levy the tax, Simonsen explained, and the earliest the tax could be implemented is July 1, assuming the commission acts this month.

If that were the case, Pierce Transit would begin receiving the funds in September, after coordinating with the state Department of Revenue, Simonsen said.

The tax increase means that parts of Pierce County will have the highest sales tax in the state. In Tacoma, residents will pay 8.8 percent on every dollar.

Simonsen views the fact that people are willing to pay such a sales tax as a sign of confidence in Pierce Transit.

“We had 60-plus meetings with the community and got good feedback – information on what people were looking for, what they wanted,” he said.

“People are willing to spend tax dollars if the money is well-spent and they’re getting a good value.”

Had the proposition – which needed a simple majority to pass – not been approved by voters, Simonsen said Pierce Transit had two options.

If the proposition had failed by a small margin, he said Pierce Transit was prepared to “bring it back to the people, and make it a community effort” and put it on the ballot again.

Had the proposition been soundly defeated, it would not have been put on the ballot again, he said, and Pierce Transit would have started taking public input on how best to implement the necessary cuts.

“I’m real glad we’re not in that situation,” Simonsen added.