Renton city council split on I-976

Council chooses to take no official stance on car tabs initiative

Cities across Washington are looking at how state measures could affect them directly, especially when it comes to road maintenance.

Initiative 976 is on Renton ballots coming out this week: limiting car tabs to $30 a year, eliminating 0.3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases and reducing the Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax. In a recent public meeting, Renton City Council looked at what the measure, if passed, would mean for this city.

Council received the briefing on I-976 on Monday, Oct. 14 to see if they wished to take a formal position on whether they oppose or support the measure. Council ultimately decided to cancel the public hearing, and therefore not take a formal position, in a 5-1 vote with Councilmember Ryan McIrvin voting against.

At the briefing, Council President Don Persson said he didn’t see the point in holding a public hearing, but wanted the council’s input. After nobody spoke, he moved to cancel the public hearing at that evening’s council meeting. Persson later said he made his decision because no councilmembers made a motion or expressed interest in taking a formal position, they didn’t have a reason to go forward on the hearing. City staff also said no one in the public had expressed interest in attending the meeting after a notice was posted.

This was McIrvin’s first dissenting vote on council, which he said he went back and forth on. He said he respects his colleagues for having a different opinion, and also wasn’t sure if voting no would make a difference. But he had to go with his conscience as a strong opponent of the initiative.

“I’m not certain that taking a position would make or break it, but ask me again after the election,” McIrvin said. “If it’s an every-vote-counts thing, then maybe we will look back on it as a missed opportunity. Also, if everyone takes that attitude (of not taking a formal position,) I think the cumulative effect could be damaging to the outcome.”

Persson said his personal position on the initiative, while he’s still digesting all the information presented on Monday, is sitting on the fence but leaning towards yes; car tabs would go down, but he knows a lot of roads wouldn’t be fixed. He said he believes legislators already had the opportunity to fix transportation funding.

“We’ve got to listen to what the voters want,” Persson said.

Councilmember Ed Prince is listed as a member of the Keep Washington Rolling coalition that wrote the against argument for I-976 in the state voter’s guide. He said while he opposes the initiative, he thinks a formal council position would have made more sense earlier in the year — ballots are already mailed out this week, which is why he voted to cancel the meeting.

The initiative would hurt projects on the two freeways in Renton, and if it passes, Prince said he’d be concerned about how Renton will look in the future.

McIrvin said the state legislature will need to address transit funding in the future anyways, and this measure is too broad and too big for the needed funding it would gut. He said this initiative capitalizes on people who are hurting a bit in car tab funds.

“Renton is at the risk of losing projects,” McIrvin said. “I wouldn’t want to put that Bus Rapid Transit launch date of 2024 in jeopardy. Anyone who is concerned about roads should be equally voting no.”

At the committee meeting, councilmember Ruth Pérez said while she knows this initiative was the result of some folks disliking what they pay for Sound Transit projects in motor vehicle excise tax, it’s affecting the city more than Sound Transit, as it will also make it harder for them to take care of daily business, like fixing potholes and sidewalks.

I-976 in Renton

City Consultant Doug Levy discussed impacts of I-976 on transportation funding at the briefing. Levy said that these potential fiscal impacts will depend on the decisions of others and how they allocate remaining funds.

For state revenues, the initiative will mostly affect the Multi-Modal Transportation Account. Legislators expect to see a hit to revenues to the tune of $148.09 million in the current 2019-2021 budget, $1.922 billion over six years, and $4 billion over the next 10 years. Sound Transit expects a loss of approximately $20 billion through the 2041 completion of voter-approved projects.

For Renton, the Multi-Modal Transportation account funds Connecting Washington, which include local projects like Interstate 405 (I-405) widening, the I-405/State Route 167 (SR 167) connector, the Bronson Way bridge replacement and “green-scaping” along an I-405 stop at 44th. Sound Transit has not shared what specific cuts it would make.

King County Metro expects $119 million in cuts between 2020 and 2025, with a loss of 175,000 service hours in the year 2020. One route that could be cut is in the Skyway area.

Metro would cut $22.8 million in grants for nine projects including the RapidRide F line in Renton and the anticipated RapidRide I line meant for Renton-Kent-Auburn. Metro also identified cutting 10,000 annual service hours to route 101 for Renton-Seattle.

Cities that have established Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD), would lose $349 million from losing local vehicle licensing funds. TBDs include 62 cities in Washington but not Renton. These cities could see cuts, ranging from $36 million in Seattle to $105,000 in Black Diamond. Those cities will look at other form of funding for a TBD, including sales tax, or hope legislator adds more funding options.

While the city doesn’t have a TBD, Levy said public works staff have identified that as a possible funding option for the department, which has struggled balancing funds in the current budget for major projects. Councilmembers Prince and McIrvin both said while they aren’t specifically looking at a TBD today, they would like to keep the city’s funding options for local transportation projects open.

The general election is Nov. 5.