PubliPola: Regressive Taxes for Buses?

Will the council's "regressive" bus funding measure hurt Metro at the polls?

By Josh Feit July 17, 2014

After debating which bus funding measure to send to voters in November—a .1 cent sales tax plus a $60 vehicle license fee to raise $45 million, or an employer tax plus an expanded commercial parking tax, plus the $60 vehicle license fee to raise $45 million—city council voted 6-2 today to go with the sales tax version. (After the employer tax/parking tax idea went down, council voted 8-0 on the sales tax idea itself.)

Nick Licata, co-sponsor of the losing employer and commercial parking tax version along with Kshama Sawant, said their version had a better "liklihood of success at the polls." He added: "It's more relevant to be collecting a tax from people who are out there in their cars than those riding the bus."

Members of the the Transit Riders Union, decked in yellow t-shirts—along with a Bertolt Brecht- quoting woman visiting from Germany, an evident Kshama Sawant fan, who said she didn't understand why Democrats wouldn't want to tax the rich—testified in favor of the more progressive measure, drawing the loudest applause from the crowd of about 50 folks at today's meeting. 

Liberal environmental and labor groups such as Futurewise, Transportation Choices Coalition, Fuse, and the Washington Bus (not a transit group, but an influential get-out-the-youth-vote group) shied away from coming out for either proposal specifically, making it clear the priority was simply putting a bus funding measure on the ballot. 

Subtly shooting back at the liberal vs. liberal intramural, though, April Putney from Futurewise did say that it was "time to put this [bus funding] on the ballot and then go down to Olympia and deal with the long-term structural funding issues." 

And UW student Drew Isaak added: "Of course we'd love a progressive tax, but that's a bigger question than the council needs to deal with today. We need to save our buses."

However, Dean Nielson, a member of the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488 who testified in support of the Sawant/Licata version, said: "For once, don't make low income people pay for everything."  

And Sawant herself said tax reform in Olympia was a "lost cause." "Everybody recognizes that it [lobbying] has failed." Voting for her and Licata's amendment, she said, "will challenge the status quo and send a message to Olympia."

Speaking for the majority, Council Member Tom Rasmussen (along with Sally Clark) said it was safest to go with the sales tax version because Seattle voters already said yes to the fix in April when Seattle voters overwhelmingly supported Prop. 1 (66.5 percent) as King County at large defeated it.  

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