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Business Leaders to City: Don't Raise Our Taxes
In a chilly tent housing a massive boat under construction at Kvichak Marine Industries in Fremont, with the crashing of heavy machinery in the background, a dozen business representatives took turns this morning expressing their opposition to the passage of any new taxes to help fill a $50-million-plus shortfall in next year's city budget. Yesterday, the groups sent a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn and the city council imploring them not to raise taxes this year.
The business folks—who included small-business owners like Asif Rehan Alvi, of Capitol Hill's Perfect Copy and Print, to former mayor Wes Uhlman, now head of the board of the Association of Washington Businesses—said that instead of raising taxes, the city should figure out ways to "trim fat" and cut costs.
"We are in the midst of a severe recession ... and we are not going to tax our way out of a recession," Uhlman said. "We are going to have to create jobs [and] live within our present income." Uhlman conceded that "living within our present income" might mean laying off essential city workers, such as police and fire, but added, "public safety is number one. Nothing's more important than that."
Travis Rosenthal, owner of Tango restaurant on Capitol Hill, rattled off a list of taxes and fees that have increased his costs over the past year and a half, including an increase in the state minimum wage to $8.55 an hour; an increase in the cost of his liquor license as well as the cost of liquor, wine, and beer; and an increase in the state unemployment tax. "We're pretty black and blue from Olympia, and we're not looking for a knockout punch from the city," Rosenthal said.
Asked what specific measures the city could take to cut costs and "increase efficiencies"—another phrase that got thrown around repeatedly this morning—Allen suggested reducing the city's purchasing practices, giving city employees incentives to take early retirement, reducing labor costs through the contract negotiation process, requiring employees to pay a greater percentage of their retirement pensions, improving collaboration between city departments to reduce redundant operations, and reducing health care costs by, among other things, encouraging healthier lifestyle practices, as the county has done (with mixed results). Additionally, Rosenthal suggested that extending closing hours for bars until 4 am—a move that would require a change in state liquor policy—could bring in more tax revenues while benefiting bars and clubs.
The city council and mayor have not proposed any specific taxes to close the budget gap; however, at last week's public hearing on the budget, council members and the mayor referred repeatedly to the need to raise new revenues to help address the shortfall. Those could include an increase in the commercial parking tax; an increase to business and occupation taxes; new or increased fees for city facilities like sports fields and pools; or the reinstatement of the employee hours tax, commonly known as the "head tax."
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