City Hall

Council to Consider Exempting UW from Parking Tax Increase

By Erica C. Barnett September 22, 2010

As we noted in Morning Fizz and in our reporting on the commercial parking tax earlier this week, the University of Washington---both students and faculty---is asking the city council to exempt it from any increase in the commercial parking tax. (The council is increasing the tax from 10 percent to 12.5 percent to help fund initial design work on the seawall.) Council member Nick Licata has said he'll introduce a proposal to exempt large institutions that subsidize transit from the increase as part of the upcoming budget process.

I talked to Andrew Lewis, lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) about why the group opposes increasing the tax, which brings money to the city, encourages transit use, and funds necessary infrastructure.

Lewis said the UW spends most of the money it makes on commercial parking fees on its UPass program, which provides low-cost transit for students. However, that same fund also has to pay for the commercial parking tax (currently 10 percent). The higher the tax, the less money remains in the fund to subsidize UPass.

In the past year alone, Lewis said, the cost for a quarterly UPass has increased nearly 100 percent, from $50 to $99. During the same period, "We've lost ten percent of our ridership on Metro transit," Lewis said.

It's unclear how the ASUW's request will be received during the worst recession since the Great Depression, when the city needs all the revenue it can get. Another outstanding question is how broadly the council might interpret such an exemption: Do other colleges get the same exemption? Does the community-college system? What about hospitals that subsidize transit for their workers? Where, in other words, do you draw the line?

The council not yet done any analysis of how much a broad exemption would cost the city.
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