Morning Fizz

The Flexibility at the Local Level

By Josh Feit February 29, 2012

Caffeinated News & Gossip. Your daily Morning Fizz.

1. Seattle's planning department director, Diane Sugimura, is pushing an idea that just a few years ago was the subject of heated local debate: Eliminating parking minimums for new developments within a quarter-mile of frequent transit service. (Once upon a time, the idea of eliminating parking minimums at light rail stations was controversial too).

As part of its plan to strengthen the economy and create jobs, DPD is proposing to "Extend no-minimum-parking requirements for residential and non-residential uses (currently applicable to urban centers, the Station Area Overlay District, and residential uses in Urban Villages) to all other areas where frequent transit service is available within ¼ mile."

Since developers typically pay between $10,000 and $25,000 per parking space (and pass that cost on to their buyers or tenants), the change---which still allows developers to build as much parking as they want; it's not a parking maximum---could, over time, save builders hundreds of thousands of dollars.

2. Frustrated that the Democrats in Olympia didn't go after tax breaks? Guess again: This morning, Rep. Reuven Carlyle's bill to repeal about 300 tax breaks that currently have no sunset date is up for a hearing in the house ways and means committee.[pullquote]Frustrated that the Democrats in Olympia didn't go after tax breaks? Guess again. [/pullquote]

The bill isn't a splashy, quick revenue fix, though. The bill would repeal business and occupation exemptions in five stages starting in 2017 and require a vote on each exemption. The idea is to force legislators to consider tax exemptions—currently locked in for perpetuity and costing the state $5.5 billion annually—the same way they consider budget items, and pass them with a simple majority based on the actual benefits. Currently, it takes a two-thirds vote to reconsider a tax break and scrap it.

Carlyle's bill itself would also take a two-thirds vote, but once his equation became the standard, exemptions wouldn't get special treatment.

“This is not partisan, it’s math,” Carlyle says. “We have a public and moral responsibility to look at both sides of the ledger.”

Also up in the house ways and means committee this morning: Rep. Laurie Jinkins' (D-27, Tacoma) capital gains tax bill—a five percent rate imposed on capital gains reported on federal income tax. Jinkins exempts the first $10,000 for a couple and $5,000 for an individual.

The lefty Washington State Budget & Policy Center has published 10 charts to demonstrate why a capital gains tax makes sense, including the fact that: it grows much faster than the sales tax; 42 states have it (31 at higher levels); and the stock market recovers from recessions much faster than consumer sales.

3. After first supporting a house bill to cap towing rates—which passed out of the state house earlier this month—representatives from the city of Seattle were down in Olympia yesterday testifying against it.

In response to stories of exorbitant towing rates, the house bill, co-sponsored by Seattle reps Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney (D-46, N. Seattle) and Gerry Pollet (also D-46), caps rates at 150 percent of the Washington State Patrol towing average— but it also allowed local jurisdictions such as Seattle to negotiate with towing companies to set a lower cap rate.

However, the senate version of the bill prevents local jurisdictions from setting a lower cap. The 150 percent rate works out to $333 per hour in Seattle, which may be lower than the crazy stories of $1200 towing fees, but when compared to how rates work out in other cities ($130 an hour in New York City, Seattle staff pointed out), Seattle wants to negotiate  lower caps.

"Setting a minimum standard at the state level makes sense," Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien told the committee, "but we would like to have the flexibility at the local level to work with the respectable [towing companies] that are doing their best, understand the costs of their business and perhaps set a rate that makes sense for the local jurisdiction. We'd like to do that in Seattle, and I'm sure other cities would like that option if it's available. Preempting cities ... is something we do not support."

4. Check out our coverage of yesterday's state senate budget proposal here. Leaving less in reserve than the house Democrats or the alternative GOP proposal, ways and means chair Sen. Ed Murray's (D-43, Seattle) budget bill fully funds education and goes much easier in social service cuts.

The bill is winning praise from education and health care groups—"Tens of thousands of Washingtonians will be cheering the Senate for proposing to save their health care," said Susan Ward, spokeswoman for the Community Health Network of Washington—and is likely to increase Murray's stock, which is already soaring after his heavy lift to pass gay marriage legislation earlier this session.

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