For Ben Franklin Transit (BFT), funding from Move Ahead Washington, the state legislature’s transportation package that Governor Jay Inslee signed into law on March 25, comes with a catch. To receive $75 million over the next 16 years, the BFT board must agree to maintain the January 1, 2022, sales tax authority rate, and provide riders 18 years of age or younger free rides on all travel modes by October 1, 2022.
Some members of the agency board, comprised of nine white men representing area cities and counties and headed by Benton County Commissioner Will McKay, have been spoiling for some time to cut the six-tenths of one percent sales tax that supports the area transit service.
The board will consider a one-tenth of one percent sales tax cut at their April 14 meeting. That cut would save an average taxpayer about $1.66 a month, according to an April 6 press release from BFT.
Two options will be considered for cutting the one-tenth of one percent. The board could temporarily reduce the tax, or they could put it on the November ballot for the voters of Benton and Franklin counties to decide whether to permanently cut it. Local citizens voted to raise the tax to its current level on March 12, 2002.
Last August the board voted against putting the tax cut on the ballot. Since the November election, several new members more favorable to a cut, like Richland City Councilmember Terry Christiansen, have joined the board.
The Democrats in the state legislature who created the funding package focused on transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and ferry service. The legislature only funded two transportation projects in the Tri-Cities, BFT and the Island View to Vista Field Trail.