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Originally published Monday, May 13, 2013 at 4:56 PM

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Guest: State should allow King County a local option to fund transportation

The state should give King County and its cities increased authority to impose license fees and a local motor vehicle excise tax, writes guest columnist Dow Constantine.

Special to The Times

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AS the Legislature heads back into special session this week, King County’s most urgent priority remains securing the authority to save Metro bus service and to maintain city and county roads and bridges.

Tuesday night, bus riders are expected to gather at a special hearing of the Metropolitan King County Council, as they did two years ago, to again urge sustainable funding for Metro Transit to keep our region moving.

But, so far, state lawmakers have not acted on what seems a simple proposition: that the people of King County should be able to decide for themselves whether to protect the bus service they have, or lose much of it due to inadequate funding.

The state should give King County and its cities increased authority to impose license fees and give the county the ability to seek voter approval for a local motor vehicle excise tax.

This looming transportation crisis can’t just be dismissed as a local problem by lawmakers and residents outside of our region. It has implications for the whole state.

King County has nearly 30 percent of the state’s population, 40 percent of its jobs, and 50 percent of its payroll. King County, along with the Puget Sound metropolitan area, is unquestionably the economic engine for the state. It’s in everyone’s interest that our businesses and economy succeed.

A reliable roads system in King County and its 39 cities moves freight to and from our ports, producing prosperity for the entire state. Reliable transit service gets hundreds of thousands of commuters to work and to school, and enables wealth-generating exporters like Boeing and Microsoft to create jobs and attract employees.

The consequences of legislative inaction include cutting 17 percent of bus service, forcing tens of thousands of people into their cars, and making traffic congestion that much worse for every car and truck on the already crowded roads.

It would mean closing at least 35 county bridges over time due to a lack of funds for maintenance and repair, and closing some roads in danger of failure.

Here’s another reason for lawmakers to act: Contrary to the popular belief that a disproportionate share of state tax dollars is funneled to services in the urban area surrounding Lake Washington, a new report reveals that one of King County’s biggest exports to the rest of the state is ... tax revenue.

According to the report requested by state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, from the state Office of Financial Management, King County received $3.4 billion in state general-fund spending, but paid $5.9 billion in tax revenue to the state.

If Washington were a business, King County would be regarded as its most profitable line, and leaders would be investing in that success, not undermining it.

We are not asking people in other parts of the state to pay for our local transportation system. We simply seek local options, so that the people of King County can choose for themselves whether to keep our competitive edge; to keep from losing our businesses and jobs to other states and other nations.

Time is running out. Gumming up the economic engine of the state is in no one’s interest. In the long run, we all benefit from a thriving and successful Puget Sound region.

We are one state of Washington. Let’s act like one. Move forward on a state transportation package and provide the local authority the people of King County need to generate prosperity and growth for the entire state. That is in the best interest of every Washingtonian.

Dow Constantine is King County executive.

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