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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Seattle car registration supplemental charge not likely to be approved today by voters

Today is election day in the State of Washington, although they don't go to the polls--today is the deadline for mailing in their election ballot, which has to be postmarked today.

One of the items on the ballot in Seattle is a "car tab" fee increase. The State Legislature passed a law allowing local jurisdictions to impose a fee on car registrations if they create a Local transportation benefit district. (The urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties also pay a Regional Transit Authority tax.)

How a transportation benefit district works

Once a local transportation benefit district is set up, the district’s board of directors may vote to charge a local vehicle licensing fee due when a vehicle owner buys new tabs.

  • The transportation benefit district board has the authority to impose a fee of up to $20 per vehicle without voter approval.
  • A transportation benefit district may impose a vehicle renewal fee of up to $100 per vehicle or seek other sources of funding if approved by voters.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District is proposing a $60 supplemental fee, on the ballots today. (King County and the City already charge the $20 amount not subject to voter approval. The King County fee goes towards transit. See "King County's car-tab fee for bus service should have been put to a vote" from the Seattle Times and "$20 car tab fee to save transit passes King Co. Council" from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog.)

The monies from the fee would be used for a variety of transportation improvements, divvied up as following:

• Approximately 29% will be allocated for transportation system repair, maintenance and safety.

• Approximately 49% will be allocated for implementing transit speed, reliability and access improvement projects and programs.

• Approximately 22% will be allocated for implementing pedestrian, bicycle and freight mobility projects and programs.

Where Seattle car registration fee monies could go

While 60 organizations have come out in favor of the proposition including The Stranger, one of the nation's premiere alternative news and entertainment weeklies, (the ad hoc group Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs of course, is not in favor), traditional organizations focused on good government--the League of Woman Voters and the Municipal League of King County--as well as the city's daily newspaper, the Seattle Times--which tends to be pro-road--are opposed.

Some say it is regressive. Others that the plans for spending the monies aren't well defined. While others complain that Seattle's Bridging the Gap bond and other funds program for road and other improvements hasn't achieved what it was supposed to do, so why give more money?

Some complain that it is a regressive fee--this is always a problem when it comes to charging more for car use. Seeming progressives focus on the cost, not the policy. If you want to provide relief for people of lesser income, do that, but still approve the change in the law.

Since the law was passed in 2007, no Washington State jurisdiction has been successful in getting voter approval for fees greater than $20. I don't expect today's election results to be any different. We won't know if the program had been better defined, and addressed the regressivity issue, whether it may have passed.

Likely, voters--most of whom own cars--aren't likely willing to increase what they pay towards road and transit infrastructure. (Also see "Pierce Transit tax failure a clear ‘no-new-taxes’ message to Legislature, Tim Eyman believes" from the Tacoma News Tribune. The piece discusses the failure, earlier this year, of a ballot measure to continue a transit sales tax.)

Note that the ballot is mail-in. I wonder if that makes a difference in terms of the result, versus voting in person at the polls.

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