Voters in Washington State will be asked on the November 5, 2019, ballot whether to approve an initiative concerning motor vehicle taxes and fees. This measure would repeal or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees, including charges funding mass-transit or regional transportation; change vehicle-valuation laws; and limit motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges.
According to the Washington State Department of Financial Management, it is estimated that passage of Initiative 976 would remove more than $1.9 billion in Washington State transportation funding over the next six years, including a nearly $1.5 billion impact to the Multimodal Transportation Account. All state transit funding, roughly $700 million over 6 years, comes from the Multimodal Transportation Account, including the two projects listed below.
2019-2021 RiverCities Transit Potential Impacts
RiverCities Transit was allocated $296,622 in Paratransit Special Needs funding from the State for the 2019-2021 Biennium. This funding helps to support the continued operations of our federally required ADA Paratransit Services. The potential financial impact to our annual ADA operating budget is a 10% loss. ADA services are federally mandated based on fixed route service, therefore capital replacements will likely be deferred, and fixed route service frequency, hours of service, and/or routes may be reduced or eliminated in order to provide funding to meet the federal ADA required service.
RCT was also awarded a $292,000 competitive grant from the Regional Mobility Grant (RMG) fund to begin a pilot project for service to Lexington – called the Lexington Connector Expansion Project. State RMG funding is as risk of being cut partially or wholly if I-976 passes. This means RCT could be at risk of losing the awarded funds, therefore this project will not begin without the confirmation of receipt of these funds.
At this time, it is unclear how the measure will impact our receipt of these funds and what the legislative response will be in the 2020 Legislative Session. For now, as we update our 2020 budget, we are planning as if they will not be available for our use. Once a clear picture of the funding reduction is known, the amount and location of any potential service cuts would be decided by the Cowlitz Transit Authority Board.