This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
A citizen’s advisory committee has come up with ideas for addressing Tacoma’s dire street infrastructure needs. They can be boiled down to two words: more money.
Given the city’s $32 million budget hole, that’s probably the only road the committee could go down. The alternative – doing nothing and letting Tacoma’s streets get into even worse shape – is intolerable.
The 13-member committee recommended not cutting existing revenue going to transportation needs, imposing a $20 car-tab fee to fund a new Transportation Benefit District and asking voters to raise their property taxes by almost $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for six years.
The new tax rate would be $3.60 per $1,000, costing the owner of a $250,000 home an additional $250 per year. That would be less than the 2011 rate in University Place ($4.45 cents per $1,000), but higher than or comparable to the rates of most other cities in Pierce County. The 2011 tax rates were $3.16 in Puyallup, $3.27 in Lakewood and $3.57 in Gig Harbor.
Together, the new car-tab fee and property tax increase would raise an estimated $24 million a year, or $144 million over six years. That would only put a dent in the city’s neglected transportation infrastructure needs, estimated at more than $800 million – but it would be a start.
The City Council has the authority to impose the $20 car-tab fee without voter approval. It would be a user fee, and those with more vehicles would pay more.
While it makes sense from that standpoint, the council should recognize that it would be regressive. A low-income person with a beater car would pay as much as a wealthy person who drives a Lexus.
If the City Council agrees to the fee, it should be sunsetted so a future council would have to continue it.
As for the property tax increase, the city will have to convince voters that it would responsibly use the new revenue, that transportation repairs and upgrades would be done in a fiscally sound way. Residents can be excused for being skeptical, given how the city has gotten into such a deep budget hole – a reflection not only of the recession but also of a longtime inability to control spending.
Giving city officials new sources of revenue isn’t a solution if it will be handled in the same way that got the city into the mess it’s in now.