Seattle Proposition 1 would increase car-tab fees by $60 per vehicle annually. Guest columnist John Fox argues this regressive tax doesn't address Seattle's more urgent transportation needs and the council could change how the money would be spent.
SEATTLE’S Proposition 1 — the 10-year $60 car-tab measure on Tuesday’s ballot — goes way over the line. It’s colossally regressive and the priorities for use of the funds are completely out of whack. What’s worse, as one council member warned, it contains language that could turn it into a “candy store” for special interests.
Seattle’s backlog of road and bridge repairs exceeds $1.5 billion. Sixty percent of our 115 bridge structures are rated in poor or obsolete condition. Yet this $200 million measure allocates zero dollars for bridges and only 29 percent for road repairs — about 30 “spot fixes” and two miles of repaving annually — when dozens of miles are needed. Buses and bikes need good roads and bridges too!
Speaking of bikes, Proposition 1 funds 1,200 “bicycle parking spots” and 100 miles of bike lanes, but fewer than nine blocks of sidewalks annually, when 12,000 blocks lack sidewalks in north and south Seattle.
Proponents say this measure will improve bus travel times by 20 percent but cite no factual basis for that claim. Nowhere in the measure is there funding for increased bus routes or hours — arguably the most critical mass-transit need facing this city.
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When it comes to transit, it’s mainly the South Lake Union area that benefits, with $20 million for transit-corridor improvements and overhead bus-trolley wiring prioritized for that one neighborhood.
And there’s another $18 million dedicated for study of an expanded streetcar network, including extension of the South Lake Union streetcar.
The Seattle Times editorial board has called the streetcar an “unnecessary trinket” and “not mainly a transportation investment.” Streetcars cost 30-to-40 percent more to operate than buses, carry fewer passengers and cost $50 million a mile for track. Even if you like streetcars, it’s folly to launch new multimillion-dollar systems when there’s not enough to fix what we have.
There’s no getting around the regressive nature of a measure that hits both the poor driver of a 30-year-old clunker and the wealthy driver of a new SUV with a $60 car-tab increase. Contrary to what proponents say, 60 percent of low-income households drive, as do 74 percent of seniors. And there’s nothing in Proposition 1 to mitigate the impact on poor families.
Some City Council members promise to address this later, after the vote. Fat chance. It’s impossible anyway without a change in the state law giving cities this taxing authority.
Also concerning is that the proposition’s Section 10 allows City Council to reprogram all the dollars. There’s nothing to keep even more of these revenues going to South Lake Union or streetcars after the vote.
When the council unanimously voted down Councilmember Nick Licata’s amendment aimed at preventing Proposition 1 from becoming “a candy store for special interests”, Councilmember Mike O’Brien actually said, “We want to be able to do anything we want with these funds.”
Vote No on Proposition 1, or you’re simply encouraging more of the same from our electeds.
You’ll also join many others voting no, including the Seattle-King County League of Women Voters, Municipal League, the 46th District Democrats and Carpenters Local 30.
John Fox is 34-year housing and homeless advocate in Seattle and campaign chairman of “Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs” opposing Seattle Propostion 1.