A proposal for $40 for car tab fees is basically off the table after a hearing today of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District board, according to sources at City Hall. That proposal from Council Member Jean Godden would be too small to cover the major transportation projects, they say, and it would prioritize basic roadwork over popular transit investments.
But that's not to say transit-focused proposals of $60 or $80 on the November ballot are a done deal, either—quite the opposite.
With a majority of the city council members up for reelection this fall, several of them were reluctant today to embrace a car tab fee that may irritate cash-strapped voters. Most council members—they all double as board members of the transportation benefit district—insisted this afternoon that they needed to hear from the public at hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
"A strong, passionate turnout on Wednesday will make a difference on what we end up doing," says Council Member Mike O'Brien, who would prefers an $80 fee that invests half of the $27.2 million in revenue into transit improvements. But O'Brien acknowledges that the knife can cut both ways. A passionate turnout against the fee—of any size—could table the measure.
Sources at City Hall go further: Strong opposition Wednesday may drive some council members to defer the car-tab fee indefinitely, which could kill it.
"I wouldn't be surprised if that could happen," says Council Member Tom Rasmussen, board chair of the Transportation Benefit District, when asked if opposition on Wednesday could defer the vote indefinitely. He clarified that various contacts from constituents—via email, phone calls, etc.—influence council members. "I think that will determine the way the council will go," Rasmussen says. "Some council members could be persuaded to say this isn't the year to do this."
Which follows a certain logic: Why put it on the ballot if it won't pass?
But Rasmussen says, "I think we should take this to the voters at the $60 level. Whether it will succeed [on the ballot] or not, I don't know."
Council Member Bruce Harrell, who faces a reelection challenge from Brad Meacham, was lukewarm today. “I just don’t see people supporting that [$80 fee] right now,” said Harrell. He pondered delaying the vote until winter or spring.
"It is so easy for us to criticize those who came before us for not investing more in transit," O'Brien says. "But when we have the opportunity to do it ourselves, it's hard."