Letter: I’m voting for the Edmonds car tab fee increase

I support an increase in vehicle license fees in order to provide for transportation improvements in Edmonds. And, before I say why, let me add that any increase will involve all four vehicles at our house. It will be a substantial increase in our annual cost of using vehicles in Edmonds.

I support adding $40 to each license tab because those funds will be matched by grant and partnership funds. Simply put, if Edmonds doesn’t do its part, state and federal funding sources won’t do theirs. Transportation specialists estimate that the City of Edmonds could be passing up $16 million in matching funds based on the projects in our Comprehensive Plan.

If $40 sounds like a lot, consider how hard it will be for the city to plan, design and construct roads, sidewalks and signals without partners. Consider again that those same funds will be spent in neighboring cities with a funding plan instead of here.

Neil Tibbott, Co-Chair
Citizens Advisory Transportation Committee

  1. Adding $40 to the license tab fees makes the total per car, per year $60. The proposed amendment to the Transportation Benefit District ordinance gives the TBD the authority to fund improvements, not just do maintenance. It commits the citizens to this fee through at least 2025.
    The fee (it is a flat tax) is unfair in that it affects the poorer citizens in that it is more of their income proportionately. The arguments that it is just a “cup of coffee” or “it is only $40” are being made by the affluent among us. It is an outrageously unfair tax at an unconsciounably high level.
    Transparency? Try to find out how the TBD spent the money from the its first year. You will not get specifics. Outside the “General fund”? Not quite, see the last City Council meeting on chanel 21.
    The City Council is the TBD and has found a way to tax more people, at a higher rate than they can do without a levy. It is really simple. Check out the TBD’s annual report…there wasn’t as much collected as projected, there were problems with the state, and it isn’t clear those problems have been resolved.
    This is a very bad way to finance projects which should be financed by the normal taxing structures of the the city.
    The use of “flat taxes”, “fee increases” and other use taxes are simply a way for the City Council to avoid being realistic about the cities finances, and to put together a levy proposal.
    Vote NO on this, and assure that the $20 you already pay is being collected properly, accounted for properly, and spent on maintenance projects. Ask for the Annual Report for the TBD.

  2. I’ll be voting for this. Its a close call, but I believe we need to support our wonderful little city and our current City Council and new Mayor all who are struggling to get our financial books in order. Somehow, over the past few years a few poor decisions were made that the elected (and appointed) ones are now in the painful process of correcting. We need to support them in their efforts.

  3. I believe anyone who wants to support the TBD is welcome to donate to it. If it is that important, the affluent can subsidize this with their money through donations, and not impose a regressive tax on the ordinary folk for whom this will be a burden.
    (my apologies for previous my previous typo’s and mis-spellings).

  4. I think $3.33 per month per car is a fair way to pay from safer streets and sidewalks. I am voting for this too. By state law, the additional money must go to improving streets and sidewalks. Politicians can’t siphon off the money to other things.

    The anti-side is advocating for a general fund levy. Under their plan, money is not-guaranteed to go to transportation. The TBD, not the general fund, is the best way to fund safer streets and sidewalks.

  5. In response to Diane T… You make some great points. I’m generally an anti-tax guy myself. The increase in license tabs fees is another tax, no doubt about it. BUT, it comes with a direct connection to a benefit for those who own and operate vehicles in the city, BETTER streets, sidewalks and signals.

    If you want a prime example of what this kind of funding does consider the walkway systems now in place at 9th and Caspers and Meadowdale beach. Both projects create safer corridors for walkers and drivers. These improvements are a real win for Edmonds! The TBD increase may ONLY be used for transportation.

  6. This a progressive tax. Don’t you want sidewalks and bicycle routes and signage for your kids?

    We need to keep it out of the general fund and this is the mechanism.

    For a total of 5.00 (existing and proposed), I want to see more sidewalks, a completion of three concurrency projects and bicycle signage.

  7. Nice semantic curveball, Diane B – this is absolutely NOT a progressive tax. A progressive tax is when people who earn/can afford more, pay more (like the federal tax code & the rate we pay locally for the RTA portion of our tabs. If this hike was based on the value of the car & therefore deductible from our 1040 taxable income – THAT would be progressive). As it is proposed, this flat rate (ie regressive) is not progressive (or tax deductible). I understand that the city is not allowed to base a tabs fee on the value of the vehicle.

    That is not to say I do not plan on voting for it but lets be clear on just what this fee/tax/’adjustment’ is. It IS regressive.

    BTW – What 5.00 total are you referring to?

  8. Because a tax is proposed by someone who calls themself a progressive, it does not a progressive tax make. (Time for some people to get out the Webster’s).

  9. In the spirit of maintaining clarity, there is no guarantee, as Neil Tibbot suggests, that the funds collected will be matched by grant and partnership funds. There’s that possibility, but it’s not a certainty.

  10. Councilwoman Buckshnis:

    Either your argument is disingenuous or you need to do some research. A flat tax is NEVER progressive.

    If the tax is kept at the current rate, we will be able to maintain our roads. Would I like new sidewalks and bike trails? YES! But, never at the expense of people who can lose their jobs or freedom because of it.

    I understand that $40 is half of your monthly food budget. Councilwoman Buckshnis, you have no children in your household and live on a banker’s retirement income. If I remember correctly, your husband is a working banker. Your comparison is patently unfair.

    As I have posted previously, your job is to represent ALL of Edmonds — not just your campaign contributers or your neighbors. Again, I offer to you my insight to educate you and any others on how this tax will affect young families, the poor, disabled, and elderly in Edmonds.

  11. Local Governments have difficulty paying for expensive transportation projects. That is why the State Legislature authorized Transportation Benefit Districts and a user fee based on vehicle registration.

    The legal test for TBD fees is called a “rational nexus test”. What that means is, there must be a reasonable relationship between the fee and how the fee will be used. Vehicle fees that pay for roads meet this test. Income or the ability to pay does not meet the legal requirement. Seattle tried to fund transportation projects based upon the assessed property value. The courts struck that down that approach.

    The Edmonds Citizen Advisory Transportation Committee worked with City staff and consultants to update the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan. This was reviewed in a number of community meetings, then approved by the Planning Board and adopted by the Edmonds City Council, in 2009. The Transportation Element lists all of the recommended projects, programs and policies. An annual review is prepared by the City for the Transportation Improvement Plan and the Capital Improvement Plan. This is all public information available through the City’s website.

    I approve Edmonds Proposition1.

  12. This an interesting debate, but it misses the point. The CON side has argued that a property tax increases that goes to the general fund are better than a license tab fee that MUST by state law go to transportation.

    Tax increases that go to the general fund are left to the discretion of politicians. Prop 1 is proposing a fee on vehicles that MUST got to safer roads and sidewalks.

    Let’s face it, there are many on the CON side that are upset that will not be able to control this money. They money must go to fix transportation problems in Edmonds and they can’t do anything else with it.

    Priya Cloutier, Diane T., Ron, Chris Fleck. Let’s face it, this is what you are upset about right?

    Your upset with the progressiveness of the tax. You just can’t use it for you want, right?

  13. There is no “progressiveness” about this tax. It is the very definition of a regressive tax. There are reasonable regressive taxes, by the way (beer, wine, cigarettes).
    I am not upset by the monies going to Transportation, and have no quarrel with the current $20 fee for road maintenance. (I do question how it is all be accounted for, since it is apparently in the general fund currently).

    Mr. Orvis, it is the grossly unfair nature of this tax, the burden it puts on the tax payer, and the commitment of Edmonds to only the 37 listed improvements until 2025 or the debt is paid. The people will decide this one.

  14. After considering all this jibber jabber about progressive blah blah blah from our psuedo intelectual, fuzzy thinking left wing friends in this column: may I respectfully point out that for a relatively poor Edmonds citizen who makes only 30Gs a year, this tax if voted in will cost less than 1/10 0f 1% of your annual pay every year and give you better roads and sidewalks, etc. Again, my point is simply consider the situation on a cost/benefit basis and whether it appears reasonable or unreasonable based on your feelings and then vote for or against it; and spare us the nonsensical stuff.

  15. Regarding Ron W’s comments;
    No there isn’t a guarantee we will get matching funds with the $40 fee revenues, but it is almost certain we would get some. It is also a guaranteee that we won’t get any with the current financial situation. What little money we get will go to a small amount of overlays with no matching federal and state funds.

    When I was less afluent and struggling I drove 1 car to save money. Cars are a drain on your finances and that is a good way to save money and we did. So in that scenario I would pay $40 extra as a result of this vote. Now that I am better off I have 4 vehicles and will pay $160 extra. This is a real life example. And that in my opinion is why this is a progressive tax.

    This is a fee that forces accountability, where the other options do not. The money has to go directly to the projects that were prioritized in a Public process.

  16. Progressive, regressive,suggestive.Call it what you will, but the facts are when the legislature authorized TBD’s the limited the choices for revenue; sales tax or vehicle fees. The nexus for the vehicle tab fee is that it is a user fee. Those who own cars pay for transportation improvements. In the the end the voters will get to decide if they want transportation improvements or not. This fee will not balance the general fund, it will pay for transportation projects and create jobs. it is not the best solution, but rather the solution the legislature gave local governement. Something to consider before you vote.

  17. Mr. Orvis:

    Since when did you become a mind reader? Apparently, you believe I am thinking something different than I am saying. I am not. I said what I meant. I am opposed to regressive taxes and this is one of them. Please do not put words in my mouth.

    Mr. Fiene:

    I understand your argument and see your point of view. However, the scenario that is more likely is a family that has two cars where both are needed because the family holds 4 part time jobs (assuming 2 adults in the household). The loss of an extra car may mean the loss of a job. As a past legal services attorney, serving people at or below the poverty line, I have seen this situation more than once.

    Mayor Cooper:

    I also understand your argument and see your point of view. However, as a grass roots activists I would propose that it is this type of problem from the local governments that will push our legislature into looking at something different.

    Mr. Martin,

    You often have very good arguments. However, when you devolve into name calling I find it difficult to take you seriously. Try again.

  18. While I’m in the same house, my opinions are shaded a bit differently than Priya’s.

    I want the street improvements. But I also can’t continue to pile on regressive tax structures.

    The real bugbear here isn’t the tax itself, it’s that we painted ourselves into a corner with the TBD concept. Having a District mindset works, when the funds that are provided to said District’s funds are progressive in nature. As nice as it would be to have an “everyone pays the same for the same service” world, unfortunately, our income distribution realities just don’t permit such a utopia.

    This tax is a small amount, in the grand scheme of incomes. There are people who are surviving on the margin, for whom this might be a budget breaker, but for the majority of the working class, this will be just another large annual expense to expect. (assuming 2 old cars per family). I don’t think it’s the amount, it’s the principle of tax structure that needs work.

    I don’t have a shorthand way to re-do the method of financing the TBD, but it needs to be done. Otherwise, we’re down to two untenable choices: restrict improvements in order to reduce the burden on those who can’t sustain it, or push through the improvements by increasing the relative tax burden on the poor. We have fallen short of optimal either way.

    Perhaps we could have the TBD funds augmented, in writing, by a specified percentage of the collected property tax? Every property needs access, roads, and sidewalks. Not only cars. So it makes sense that property owners should share the burden of transportation improvements.

    What say you, public policy wonks? Is having the TBD funded differently a possibility?

  19. We are talking about Edmonds here, so my personal example is more relevant. Your example is very hypothetical. There isn’t a perfect solution but this is the best for our circumstances.

    The only dependable tax revenue for Transportation that hasn’t been siphoned off into the general fund black hole are gas taxes. Because it hits everyone the same per mile, this is surely more regressive than what we are talking about. I hope you aren’t advocating taking that away too.

    With an 80 year overlay cycle, we will be leaving our future Edmonds residents with a cost of 3 times as much to rebuild our roads. This is a credit card mentality that we need to do something about. It is irresponsible not to.

    We have two to three times as much local funding going to Parks infrastructure (not land, infrastructure) that we have going into transportation. Our Transportation infrastructure has a value of probably at least 20 times that of the parks infrastructure. This is ridiculously out of proportion, Significant effort has been made to adjust where our current funding goes, but the elected officials persist on the current funding sheme.

    Transportation is the one thing in the general fund that almost all citizens use every single day. Lets get our act together and focus on solutions to this problem. Enough with this regressive tax jargon.

    Also, I am glad we have a Mayor who is willing to take a stand on this. Thanks Mike,

  20. Mr. Fiene:

    I have door belled almost every precinct in Edmonds and I can tell you that we do have people living from paycheck to paycheck — the very example I spoke of above. I encourage you to speak with Kerry Ayers who runs the Edmonds Community Foundation, a non-profit that provides services to the poor of Edmonds.

  21. Its good to see the informal poll on the issue. I have a theory that a larger group of nay sayers than proponents are speaking out on this issue, especially in this venue. That will be tested by the actual vote. So remember in November folks. It should be interesting.

  22. Proposition 1 will ask voters to approve a $40 car tab fee. It is based upon each vehicle that is licensed. If you don’t have a car, you pay nothing. If you have one car, you pay $40. For every car that you license you pay an additional $40. This is what is known as a user fee.

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