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Pedestrian Plan Advisors Oppose "Head Tax" Repeal

By Erica C. Barnett July 1, 2009

The members of the city-appointed Pedestrian Master Plan Advisory Group, along with the advocacy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, the head of Great City, and the president of Friends of Seattle, just sent a letter to Mayor Greg Nickels and all nine members of the city council opposing a proposed (and probably inevitable) repeal of the employee hours tax, AKA the "head tax." The tax is a $25-per-employee charge paid by employers, which includes an exemption for any employees who don't drive to work alone.

The letter reads, in part:

Funding from the Head Tax (also called the Business Transportation Tax), a tax which is relatively insignificant for individual business, is an important source of funding for transportation improvements that help to promote more responsible forms of transportation, such as biking and walking. While $4.7 million is not much of SDOT’s budget, it makes up a large percentage of total funding for pedestrian and bicycling projects in Seattle. Because of the incredible infrastructure deficit, especially in the Southeast and North parts of the city, and the fact that a prioritized project list has been identified through the draft Pedestrian Master Plan, it seems clear that there is a use and a specific need for these funds.  [...]

The Head Tax is one tool this city has to reduce [vehicle miles traveled, i.e. driving] by creating an incentive for people who work downtown to use alternative modes of transportation to get to work and creating a revenue source for pedestrian improvements. The Head Tax prices parking appropriately and creates funding for responsible forms of transportation. It is good policy to support a sustainable transportation policy for Seattle.

We recognize your interest in making a statement that supports businesses as they struggle in these difficult economic times. But this is not a symbolic gesture. It has serious consequences for the broader agenda of making our city more sustainable.

It is for these reasons – the tax’s use as a VMT-reduction tool, the fact that the tax is not a financial burden on businesses, and the funding for responsible forms of transportation that will be lacking – that we do not support the proposal to repeal the Business Transportation Tax.
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