1. We asked Transportation Choices Coalition Executive Director Rob Johnson what he thought of a report by the libertarian Washington Policy Center, which concluded that the "typical driver" in the state will end up paying nearly $250 a year more in new taxes and fees if the state legislature adopts a transportation revenue proposal endorsed by not just state house Democrats and transit proponents like TCC, but business groups and suburban city representatives across the state.
Johnson's response: "These guys never really talk about the overall increase in gas prices that is happening on a regular basis, so there's no contextual information about, for example, the fact that in the last month, gas prices have gone up a quarter to line the pockets of big oil, not paying for road safety or maintenance. ...
"It actually seems if [the WPC is] saying $250 for a typical driver, that typical driver would to be registered in King County. They're including a 1 percent [motor vehicle excise tax] car that only applies in King County. A typical Washington state driver would be paying less."
And what about all the evidence—as documented by the Sightline Institute—that the number of miles driven by Northwest car owners is actually declining? Might that contradict the WPC's claim that taxes and fees paid by drivers, particularly gas taxes, will head ever upward?
"I think all that stuff is totally valid. ... I 1000 percent agree with Sightline's analysis. Millenials are driving less, but [overall] as a country we’re driving less."
As for the chances of the proposed statewide transportation revenue package: "The bridge collapse gave a little shot in the arm to the revenue package; we’ll see if that lingers in people’s memory when legislators actually take a vote."
2. The Seattle Department of Transportation, which has seen major budget cuts over the past few years of economic decline, could save millions of dollars by cutting costs, including $1.3 million simply by enforcing the city's disabled parking placard law, which requires people who display disabled parking placards to be, well, disabled.
The Seattle Police Department estimates that about 60 percent of those displaying disabled placards in the downtown and First Hill neighborhoods are not actually disabled, meaning that about 12 percent of people parking in those areas are getting free parking for which they don't qualify.
Other areas where the audit says the city could save money include shifting of leaf pick-up costs to Seattle Public Utilities and reducing credit-card transaction fees at automated parking meters.
The Republicans also have another version that not only raises the threshold and lowers the rate, but doesn't address the couples loophole. Going that route would cost the state about $174 million3. This morning, emphasizing the divide between the state Democratic house and the Republican-dominated senate, we reported that after the house passed a bill to close a loophole in the 2006 voter-approved estate tax (which sets a 10-19 percent rate on wealthy estates starting at a $2 million threshold) that was allowing couples to avoid the tax, the senate Republicans proposed a bill that would also close the loophole, but would take a run at the estate tax by raising the threshold (to $5 million) and lowering the rate (by 25 percent, to a range of 7.5 percent to 14.25 percent).
Here's an update: the Republican changes would lower those who would pay the tax from about 300 estates to 90 estates (across the entire state), and it would lower state revenues from it the next biennium from a $78.1 million gain to a $17.7 million loss.
The Republicans also have another version that not only raises the threshold and lowers the rate, but doesn't address the couples loophole.
Passing that bill, without fixing the loophole, would cost the state about $174 million, from both losses from the higher threshold and lower rates plus the couples that could opt out of paying.