Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Making good ideas happen: State of Washington, transportation taxes (fees)

The State of Washington has a law which allows local jurisdictions to tack on an additional fee, up to $20, for vehicle registrations, for the support of local transportation infrastructure and services, by creating a local transportation benefits district.

Before 2007, this had to be approved by voters. After changes in the law, fees of up to $20 could be assessed without a vote, but an amount of up to $100 can be assessed, if it is approved by voters in a local election.

While some communities have attempted to pass a higher fee than $20, in both the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, I don't think there is one instance of a higher fee being approved.

For example, in 2010, Edmonds, Washington asked for the authorization to charge a $40 fee. The ordinance was defeated, with about 70% of the electorate voting against the bill.

A few weeks ago, voters in Pierce County, Washington rejected a small increase in the local sales tax, which would have supported public transit. See "Pierce Transit might shrink 35%" from the Tacoma News-Tribune.

Earlier this year, Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds and 30 other lawmakers introduced House Bill 1536, which would permit temporary car-license surcharges of up to $30 to help financially-pressed Puget Sound bus agencies while, justified as "congestion relief." The surcharge won't require voter approval. A congestion relief plan has to be in place before the surcharge can be assessed, and the authorized charging period ends as of 2014.

Transit agencies in the Puget Sound region have been making massive cuts because of drops in sales tax revenues, which are the primary source of funding for local transit. For example, the Community Transit System in Snohomish County doesn't provide service on Sundays and Holidays, and has significantly cut back on evening and Saturday service. (See "Bill would provide temporary funding for public transit" from the Snohomish County Tribune.)

According to "Bill: Higher taxes for gas guzzlers to pay for buses" from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Liias intends to introduce a new bill, local transit act, to provide more support for transit. Among the options that would be available if the Legislature approves the measure:

- A progressive motor vehicle excise tax.
- A vehicle license fee based on annual miles traveled for that vehicle.
- A fee or tax based on how fuel efficient car is.
- Removing the sales tax exemption on gasoline.

But the bill requires that these provisions be brought to local voters and passed before they can be implemented.

So I don't see much real impact ever occurring from such a bill, even if it is passed.

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