Left tackle Rocky Mullen could not save his teammate, quarterback Clint Didier, from a sacking at last night’s Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) Board meeting. The Franklin County commissioners were the only two out of nine board members who voted no to tabling the one-tenth of one percent transit sales tax cut. When it comes to former National Football League tight end Didier, the Observer cannot resist the football analogies.
The meeting included call-in comments from transit users who opposed the funding reduction. Commuters, visually impaired riders, students, and others told the board how important the service was for them.
In voting to table the proposed tax reduction, seven of the members of the board didn’t seem inclined to risk losing $75 million from the state over the next 16 years without studying the issue more.
The state legislature approved a $16.9 billion transportation package “Move Ahead Washington” that provided significant increases in funding for transit and other transportation options for 16 years. Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill on March 25.
There were two requirements in the bill for agencies receiving state transit funding. The transit agencies must agree to maintain the January 1, 2022, sales tax authority and provide riders 18-years of age or younger free rides on all travel modes by October 1, 2022.
Didier argued that the legislation which prohibits eliminating the tax “authority” meant the ability to impose a tax. The board decided to obtain legal advice on that interpretation of the legislation before deciding on a sales tax reduction.
Richland City Councilmember Terry Christensen pointed out that “these were unusual times” in terms of sales tax revenue. The transit agency couldn’t depend on the same level of revenue from that source to continue, he said. He agreed with West Richland Councilmember Richard Bloom that a workshop to study the revenue and operation issues was needed before any decision could be made on a tax cut.
Christensen suggested that the board sit down with drivers at a workshop and look at routes and see where there could be improvements and potential savings.
No date was chosen for the workshop. There was some discussion about waiting until the board hired a new BFT general manager.