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New transit tax? Who knew?

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Feb. 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
February 12, 2010 3:17 pm

Shame on me for not being aware of it until now, but a fairly significant vehicle license fee is sailing through the Legislature without a whole lot of public attention or debate.

House Bill 2855 would empower local public transit boards to enact $20 annual license-tab fees for four years without voter approval. The state House of Representatives looks poised to pass early next week; it then goes to the Senate.

Andrew Austin – an advocate and member of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition – says the measure would help Pierce Transit and its counterparts in other counties get through a funding crisis. Pierce Transit, he says, now faces the possibility of cutting back its bus service as much as 50 percent because of the recession-driven drop in sales taxes.

Tim Eyman, who made his name demolishing Washington’s license-tab fees with Initiative 695, is predictably vitriolic. As he sees it, the voters’ first line of defense against unwanted taxes is requiring that tax measures be put up for a vote. Absent that, the second line of defense is letting voters hold elected officials accountable for imposing taxes by either re-electing them or throwing them out office.

But transit officials, he said, are “unelected bureaucrats” who can’t be held directly accountable for enacting taxes.

On that point, Eyman is both right and wrong. Pierce Transit’s nine-member board of commissioners is composed of elected officials. But they were elected in other capacities – Marilyn Strickland as mayor of Tacoma, for example, and Tim Farrell of the Pierce County Council. They are accountable to the voters in their elected positions, not as transit officials per se.

“It’s the definition of taxation without representation,” says Eyman, with characteristic understatement.

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