Link Transit Board Divided on Public Vote To Repeal Sales Tax
The Link Transit board is delaying any move to ask voters if they want to repeal a tenth of a cent sales tax that's set to go into effect in January.
Board members sparred for over an hour Tuesday on whether the transit is fulfilling its mission or reaching goals set forth when the tax was approved in 2019.
Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg sits on the board, and he wants to send the issue back to voters because the transit is underperforming.
"Four years ago, people did speak," said Steinburg, "They wanted to believe in our vision. They wanted to believe that. I think we can all say the facts of the matter are we failed to execute that vision."
The board Tuesday tabled any movement on a public vote to repeal the tax until next March when it will decide if Link Transit is meeting its benchmarks.
The agreement also stipulates that there will be no bond involving the tax before that time.
If the board decides a public vote is appropriate, a ballot measure will be crafted for the November 2024 election.
Voters in Chelan and Douglas counties approved a 0.4% sales and use tax funding level in September 1990 for the transit in 1991.
In 2019, the voters approved a proposition to increase Link’s sales tax appropriation by 0.2%. It’s a phased increase that began January 1, 2020 with a 0.1% increase, which is set to be followed on January 1, 2024 with a second 0.1% increase.
The second 0.1% increase is what the board is grappling over.
Wenatchee City Councilor Mark Kulaas is a board member who thinks the transit serves a vital public need and wants the tax left in place.
"Economic vitality of the community is enhanced by public transit, period," said Kulaas. "There's no argument about it. People need to get to work."
Kulaas has accused some other Link board members of being "anti-transit."
He noted board chair Marc Straub gave notice the tax would be coming up for action on Monday, just 24 hours in advance of the meeting with no written documentation, reports, analysis, etc.
Outgoing Link Transit CEO Richard DeRock argued the transit was meeting expectations through expanded service and Sunday service, although more routes and more Sunday service needed to be achieved.
Some skeptical board members questioned whether real progress toward meeting the goals was being established and pointed out that some service has been downsized since 2019.
Board members also debated whether the transit would lose grant money from the state if the 0.1% tax was repealed. Members favoring the public vote contend it wouldn’t be a repeal, but simply referendum on the future of the tax by voters.
Legal counsel to the transit said the statute was clear that any pullback of tax money for the transit would qualify as a repeal, and that any argument otherwise would have to be litigated in court. The legal representative said the grant money would be affected if the sales tax funding was reduced.
The Link Transit 2023 operating budget includes $11,888,000 from state grant funding