Voters in Pierce Transit’s public transportation benefit area are deciding whether to increase the county sales tax by three-tenths of 1 percent in order to boost funding for the agency’s bus service and avoid cutbacks.
While only voters living within the benefit area can cast ballots on the proposal by the Nov. 6 election day, their decision will affect bus riders and taxpayers who live outside the area, as well.
Supporters of Proposition 1 say the proposed tax increase, which – for example – would amount to three cents for a $10 purchase, will ensure funding for bus service for people with limited or no other transportation options. They include seniors, students, commuters, people with disabilities and low-income families and individuals.
The same tax increase, with similar motivation for proposing it, was rejected by voters in 2011. Since then, Pierce Transit has cut costs, raised fares and reduced its number of management employees. In addition, bus drivers and other employees agreed to no pay raises in a three-year contract. But ridership has risen to its highest levels in the history of Pierce Transit, officials said.
Pierce Transit anticipates cutting 35 percent of its current service if the ballot measure fails. There would be no regular or special bus service for people with disabilities on weekends or past 7 p.m. on weeknights, and runs for commuters would be curtailed on weekdays.
If the measure passes, Pierce Transit states that current levels of service would continue and special service, such as routes to high-traffic events like the Washington State Fair in Puyallup that were eliminated in past cutbacks, would be restored.
A committee of citizens working to defeat the tax proposal claims that a higher sales tax would put a disproportionate burden on low-income persons, and that the tax could continue even if Pierce Transit’s finances improve.
The committee also asserts that Pierce Transit should reduce the amount of money that its workers are paid.
The Graham-South Hill-Spanaway area is about as far south in the county as Pierce Transit buses go. Eatonville and nearby communities have no direct service because they weren’t included in the transit service area that was initially created in 1979. People from those areas and others that aren’t in the transit benefit area can ride the buses, though. They can also pay the higher tax.
Communities that are part of the benefit area include Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Sumner. Voters there will have a say in whether the proposed tax increase passes or fails.