With passage of Initiative 976, local cities must address ‘significant loss’ of transportation revenue

City of Edmonds crews making sidewalk repairs in 2019. (Photos courtesy City of Edmonds)

Officials in the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace agree that Initiative 976, the “$30 car tab” measure being approved by the majority of the state’s voters, will have a significant negative impact on local transportation projects.

The measure repeals the current law giving cities the authority to establish transportation benefit districts (TBDs) to impose a car tab fee, with the money designated for transportation improvements. Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace receive $20 for each car tab fee. Lynnwood, meanwhile, receives $40. They are among 62 TBDs statewide receiving revenue from vehicle license fees.

The initiative, sponsored by Tim Eyman, tapped into simmering taxpayer resentment over Sound Transit’s formula that overvalues vehicles when determining car-tab fees. As our online news partner The Seattle Times has reported, despite several years of debate in the state Capitol, Washington state lawmakers haven’t agreed on a bill to change the formula. I-976 requires vehicle value to be determined based on the Kelley Blue Book.

Now, as passage of I-976 appears imminent, local cities are faced with how to address gaping holes in their respective budgets.

“We are looking hard at what the city can and should do to adjust to this very significant loss of revenue,” said City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams.

In Edmonds, I-976 would reduce revenues to the street budget by approximately 37% — $697,000 out of a total revenue base of $1,894,000 for 2020, Williams said. “This money was to be spent on maintaining and operating the city’s street system, including pavement preservation tasks like crack sealing, pothole repair, and repairing smaller sections of failed pavement. It also pays the power bills for, and does all the maintenance on, our traffic signals, pedestrian crossing lights and street lights.”

In addition, that street budget funds the following:

– sidewalk maintenance and replacement, plus building new sidewalks where needed.

– vegetation management to maintain sight lines for vehicles and pedestrians.

– placing, replacing and maintaining signage, including speed limits, stop signs, parking restrictions, school zones, and crosswalks.

– painting of fog lines, centerlines and parking spaces, as well as raised pavement markers.

– the city’s portion of responding to weather events, including snow and ice control, tree and limb removal after windstorms, and normal maintenance of trees and other vegetation located in city right-of-way.

A City of Edmonds snow plow ready to go in 2019. Snow removal funding will also be impacted by Initiative 976.

“These things are all very basic operation and maintenance tasks that 1) all citizens expect and benefit from, 2) are related to the safety of our citizens of all ages and abilities, and 3) are not really seen as ‘want to haves’ but rather an important part of the basic package of services that define a safe urban environment,” Williams said. “If we provided citizens with a list of all these services along with their costs and asked them to cross off 37% of these work tasks, which ones would they choose or how else might they suggest we pay for them? Hopefully it won’t come to that kind of Hobson’s choice and we will be able to put together a sensible plan.”

The good news, Williams said, is that so far Edmonds voters are rejecting the initiative, with latest returns showing 56% against and 44% in favor.

“This could create an opportunity to approach our citizens (at the appropriate time) and ask them to reinstate the local license fee or one of the other options available in the Transportation Benefit District authorizing statutes that are not invalidated by I-976,” he said. “There may be other good ideas out there as well and we will need to start a conversation with our citizens to get further guidance on how they will want to proceed in the coming weeks and months.”

Voter support of Initiative 976 was a different story in the city of Lynnwood, where the measure was receiving approval of 58.5% of voters.

“We are disappointed to see the passage of I-976 in that it affects our ability to keep up with the needs of our aging transportation infrastructure,” said City of Lynnwood Public Works Director Bill Frantz. The initiative will strip approximately one-third of the city’s Transportation Benefit District funding, which goes toward the city’s transportation infrastructure program, he added.

“The local car tab fees bring in approximately $1.1 million dollars per year, which helped fund our pavement program, sidewalk enhancements and several other critical transportation improvements,” Frantz said. On Nov. 20, the city’s Transportation Benefit District Board – which is comprised of Lynnwood City Councilmembers – is scheduled to review the city’s plan for a 2020 balanced budget that includes already-planned cuts to the city’s paving program for next year.

“The TBD Board will need to determine if they want to in fact cut funding for transportation improvements or reallocate funds already designated for another city service, Frantz said. “Unfortunately, our local community members will experience impacts if we are not able to keep up with proper road maintenance.”

In Mountlake Terrace, meanwhile, latest returns show 55% of voters rejecting the initiative. Mountlake Terrace City Manager Scott Hugill said the Mountlake Terrace City Council established its Transportation Benefit District and $20 license tab fee program in 2011, and it generates about $330,000 annually for the city.

In adopting the TBD, the city’s goal was to provide a funding source for three key programs: the Main Street Revitalization Project, meeting requirements of the state’s Growth Management Act, and the city’s pavement management program, which was resurrected after being suspended during the recession.

The Main Street Project includes a range of street and utility improvements along 56th Avenue, and 232nd and 234th Streets, as well as along 236th Street from 56th Avenue to the Transit Station. According to Hugill, the city needs funds to provide a local “match” required by state and federal transportation grants for Main Street construction. “Without enough local matching funds, the city’s applications for grant funding are not scored as high, meaning we are less likely to get the grants for projects such as Main Street,” Hugill said.

Under Washington’s Growth Management Act, cities in the region are required to accommodate population and job growth, which was part of the rationale for the changes in Town Center zoning over the past 12 years. “To accommodate this growth, some cities (including Mountlake Terrace) collect traffic impact fees from new development to help fund the improvements required by the development, Hugill said.  However, new development can be charged only for the traffic impacts associated with the development itself — the city has to come up with the balance of funds to complete the associated traffic project,” Hugill explained. “If the city does not have the funds available to complete a development-related road project within 10 years, the impact fees must be returned,” he said. “The $20 license fee helps to pay for the community’s share of improvements when coupled with impact fees.”

As an example, Hugill pointed to the intersection of 58th Avenue West and 220th Street Southwest, where Atworth Commons and the Brighton School projects both paid traffic impact fees — which can be used to add signals the intersection. “But a signalized intersection is in the neighborhood of $1 million. and the city could not collect all of that from the two projects,” Hugill said. “The license tab fee would be the city’s share to fund the balance of the project.”

“Under I-976, these projects will have to be delayed,” Hugill said. “If the city does not have the funds to match a grant, we cannot accept the grant, and the associated project will not be completed until adequate funds are available. The same is true with traffic impact fees: If the city is unable to fund the balance of a transportation project within 10 years of collecting the impact fees, the impact fees must be returned.”

— By Teresa Wippel

36 Replies to “With passage of Initiative 976, local cities must address ‘significant loss’ of transportation revenue”

  1. Well since it passed maybe Edmonds could have used the money governments officials could have saved instead of sueing WE the people.

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  2. I know how you incompetents can make up the revenue…you can put all city projects out for open bid for local companies in the communities to bid on ‍♂️ Save valuable money on the labor while supporting local businesses plus then us tax payers don’t have to drive by the projects they pay a lot of money for and have to see ONE GUY WORKING and 3-6 overpaid entitled lazy works sit there talking and watching the one guy do the work!!! Sounds like a winfor you guys, a win for businesses within the communities, and a win for the hard working taxpayers that fund everything including your jobs

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    1. Starting your “suggestion” with “I know how you incompetents can make up the revenue” is classless and intended to inflame rather than meaningfully contribute.

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  3. I can appreciate the anger expressed in comments above, but that anger isn’t going to solve anything. The only way you can put the projects out for open bid by local companies is to have a pool of money on hand to pay for the projects that are put out to bid. Thanks to I 976 a large pool of money that was available to fix our roads now, apparently, won’t be. In the end, we get what we are willing to pay for. The city will now probably have to turn to some sort of municipal bonding scheme to pay for much of our badly needed infrastructure repair (roads, buildings, etc.) Guess what, the bonding is another form of tax that all present and future Edmonds residents will have to pay to have the basic needs of our city met. We have been busy building and dreaming of building “wanted” projects while ignoring actual “needed” projects. Being unwilling to assess yourself for needed repairs on your home will result in a rundown, lost value home. That is another form of incompetence when you think about it.

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    1. Taxpayers should have payed more attention to the City, remember the City Council just tabled (it is not dead, just tabled) a $ 350,000.00 STUDY -City Hall wanted- to be completed on the Five Corners area, several months ago. It’s all private property, there is nothing to study. One third of a Million dollars, who cares, there is always more money to waste.
      How much of your tax dollars have been squandered on all of the high price studies conducted in Edmonds? How many Millions have been wasted?
      Edmonds City Hall was wrong as expected on the impacts of MFTE, remember they touted it as such a Great WIN for the City of Edmonds. Developers getting a free ride on taxpayers backs. Even previous studies prove MFTE was not a win for taxpayers.

      City Hall is a bloated, beached whale. Looking for someone to Blame, do not blame voters for calling an end to the insanity of over spending. Look no farther than an over bloated City Hall, and how they waste money.

      Clinton, you hit the nail on the head——“We have been busy building and dreaming of building “wanted”
      projects while ignoring actual “needed” projects.”

      People pay enough in taxes in Edmonds, there is no need for more Taxes or Fees. With a new year brings a new Mayor, obviously the current Mayor was a total failure. Earling ran the City on the constant influx of other peoples money. Now the free-flowing river is gone, and now taxpayers will suffer from Earling’s incompetence. Taxpayers have had their limit of the lies and waste.

      Your money was squandered on things like bike lanes and Federally illegal lighting put into road ways, anything for personal press, but nothing for the Taxpayers.
      Tax and mandate bicycles purchase a Lisc. Plate and get tags, and insurance. What about all the motorized bicycles on the road now, and now electric skate boards, do they have insurance? Do they pay for anything? NO That is where a major portion of the funds lost from I-976 were going, scheduled to be wasted on more bike lanes, as part of the social agenda.

      35% of San Francisco residents surveyed stated they were moving out within three years, do to a City, which the “leaders” have destroyed. This is where these types of Governments lead, to total failure.

      Give them Ten Dollars, they will spend Fifty Dollars, but not until they have paid themselves Five.
      79,235 State employees in CA make more than $ 100.000.00 per year in retirement payments from the State.

      Edmonds is a city of 44,000 people, and the Edmonds City Hall is at the top in salaries for every category of pay in comparison to the entire State.

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  4. What a wonderful opportunity we have been handed with the passage of I-976! Edmonds voters wanted to keep the car tabs in place by a vote of 56% to 44%. That shows the willingness of Edmonds voters to pay the local TBD tax voted on by council in the past. Council has been reluctant in the past to add more TBD taxes but they have also let our road infrastructure go down hill. In 2008 council stopped funding roads and has never restored it to what is necessary to keep up with our needs. (Clint, take note, it is a need not a want, right?) A recent very detailed road study showed the need for about $2m/yr just to keep up and protect our road from further substructure damage.

    Some of the budgets over the last 10 years have scrapped together was could be found to at least try to keep things in check. Bottom line is we need about $2m per year to get it done right. Voters recognized the issue back in 2013 when one of the largest vote getters in the Strategic Action Plan was to create a permanent funding source for roads. The estimate then was $1.4m/yr but is up now because of or lack of funding to date.

    We can generate $2m/yr several ways. $20/car tab produces $700k/year so the authorized limit without a vote of the people over $2m. The revenue problem could have been solved with a council vote but this did not act. Another way is to collect a little less that $100/yr per household. With more than 20,000 households that would raise $2m/year, again problem solved and we would be accomplishing what the voters asked for in 2013 in the SAP. The 56/44 vote is a great indication of the willingness of Edmonds voters to fund transportation, even if we export the money to other places. The support should holdup even more if the votes knew the entire amount collected will stay right here in Edmonds. It stays here for 30 plus years on residential streets and about 18 years on arterials.

    Too keep this short I will note show how the majority of the current council can make this all happen without risking any future reelection bids. We could easily assess the voter willingness to tax ourselves, and keep the money for Edmonds with as quick survey like we did for Parking. Such a survey would gauge the public interest and allow the current council time to put the measure on the next available ballot sometime after the first of the year.

    If you agree you should say so and email our city council. We have a golden opportunity because of the passage of I-976 and council can fix what the public has asked for since the SAP in 2013. Voted on by council again in 2015 by the way! Blacktop matters and we can all make a difference.

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  5. Amen Brother Haug. Time to move beyond corny fountains in the middle of the main road, decorative lights up the road to the ECA, imaginary overpasses to the waterfront, and state of the art parks and actually assess ourselves some money to fix things that got to get fixed. Unless we can talk Rick (Steves) into giving us a million or so a year, looks like we are going to have to pay for it ourselves someway.

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  6. Not the Strategic Action Plan,
    Just like the City could not get the votes for a Business Improvement District in Edmonds, legally.
    So they falsified documents to do it illegally— to form Ed!
    The City has forced the payment of almost $ 1 Million dollars from business owners, with nothing accomplished.

    The voters spoke Darroll, I guess that’s just not what you want to hear. You should not sit on any commissions, that is obvious.

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    1. The detailed facts in the SAP are well known by most people. I stand by my statement of what the people said in relation to roads. Council approved the SAP element for roads in 2013 and 2015. Hard to understand how my comments on roads turned in into the ED discussion again but I guess that is what free speech is all about.

      The Edmonds voters did speak. The voted to continue the car tab taxation 56% in favoring the tax. My point was a simple one. If we were willing to continue the car tab tax and it now goes away, maybe we would be willing to tax ourselves less and pay for our roads.

      Given the condition of our roads we have an opportunity to tax ourselves less and pay for our own roads. I have not heard anyone in the public, the administration, or the council come up with any other ideas to fix our roads.

      I am guessing if you have the power to appoint commissioners you would not select me? I do fail to see how presenting facts and ideas for us to consider makes me unqualified to serve on a commission.

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  7. Darroll,
    You show the kind of person you are by the following statement “Too keep this short I will note show how the majority of the current council can make this all happen without risking any future reelection bids.”

    To translate, figure out the lie to tell the taxpayers, like Dave Earling did on the Sound Transit board with their car assessments. People have caught onto the games of people like you who are here to tell Taxpayers what they should Pay, how they should live. And then, if that does not work, hit them with Social Intimidation. Pathetic.

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    1. You are absolutely correct. I did show folks the kind of person I am with that statement. I misspelled a word in that sentence just like you misspelled my name again.

      Your translation of my thoughts is simply wrong. A majority of our current council will not be on the council in 2020 and those individuals are not likely to run for council again. That was my point. They would not have to tell any lies to consider new ways of funding our roads. What Dave Earling did on the Sound Transit Board had nothing to do with our Edmonds roads.

      Again you are partly correct when you suggest “people like you are here to tell Taxpayers what they should pay, how they should live” Yes I have suggest that if we want to pay for our roads we are likely to have to go back to the way we did it before 2008. We paid for the roads with our tax dollars and we may have to do that again. And yes I do suggest on how we should live. I believe we should live in a city that takes care of it’s infrastructure. I do believe we should we should live in a city that prioritized how we spend our money. (See SAP). So you are right, I do tell people we should pay for the things that make our city a good place to live, work, and play.

      I do not apologize for my analysis outlining the cost of paying for our roads. Nor do I apologize for offering ideas on how to find ways to pay those costs. I would be curious to know what other ideas folks may have to pay for these costs. Probably not legal but maybe we can get some of that $1m paid to ED to pay for the roads in front of our downtown businesses.

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  8. No worries…976 overturned in Court… With a Liberal Court legislating from the bench and government addicted to the revenue, the 976 Initiative will be overturned for some fictitious and amorphous reason…No worries!

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    1. If court history is a guide they may challenge some parts of I-976 but not all. The funding for the bonds already sold may stay in place but new funding for new bonds may not. Local revenue is another question. That can be restored by a vote of the people as I understand it.

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  9. I hate to see us all kind of being at odds a little bit here, because I think there is some great wisdom to be gleaned from what Joy, Brent and Darrol have to say about the general state of affairs in Edmonds and our world at large. (Myself probably not so much).

    I tend to be maybe too much of a “liberal” in my life views because that’s the environment I was raised in and I’m often finding myself liking a lot of what these three fellow citizens are saying about our over all situation in Edmonds. I think the biggest mistake we all make is not listening to and trying to understand each other’s viewpoints. We get so locked into “my philosophy of life and solutions to problems are the only right ones” that we toss out possible good ideas without really looking at them.

    We have concrete (literally and figuratively) problems in our town that need to be solved. We need to quit inventing problems and then solving them. Maybe that’s something the new Mayor and City Council will need to address. We need to figure out practical and economical ways to fix the real problems we have and we need to learn to care a little bit more about each other. (Believe me, I’m preaching to myself more than to anyone else on that last point).

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    1. Clint, not sure how you measure “wisdom” but I talked about taking care of our infrastructure with sustainable revenue streams. I hope that I did not convey the “anti government” concerns like the others seem to have done. I am very much in favor of good government. To me that is a government that sorts out with citizen input what is the problem we are trying to solve and sets about to gather the facts, engage the public and then make measurable decision and adjusts as needed. I should have been more clear in making my points so they can be understood and separated from any anti government talk. But I guess I am part of the problem by donating my time to serving on commissions and other citizen involvement over the years.

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  10. The passage of 976 isn’t the reason for the lost transportation revenue. The theft (the intentional over-valuation) took extra revenue, and the initiative took the extra back. Is it technically lost revenue? People voted for the original car tab tax. Now public trust has been lost.

    Why did the City Council unanimously vote for a resolution opposing Tim Eyman’s initiative on the grounds that it’s a state legislative function to fix car tabs? – but also unanimously voted on gun storage laws (now illegal and overturned) without giving deference to state lawmakers?

    The City Council is rudderless. Mike Nelson is not the correct rudder either. Tibbot might not of been either.

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  11. Imagine that….local libs triggered by the people of this state voting for some semblance of fiscal accountability….
    Tim Eyman for Edmonds Mayor!!!

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  12. It does appear that “local lib.s” have pretty much won the election day here in Edmonds so there will be ample opportunity for “local conservatives” to complain about and abuse them here in print which really does none of us any particular good. Rather than calling each other names and trying to label each other, why don’t we try to limit our comments more to presenting our ideas on how to actually proceed with identifying and solving our problems. The local ideologues of both stripes are boring, repetitive and bankrupt of real original and out of the box thinking. That’s what I like about Joy, Darrol, and Brent; they actually have workable ideas that go beyond some ideological rule of thumb for how things should be done in the perfect worlds of Liberalism or Conservatism. Our tribalism serves no purpose but to preserve the continuation of tribalism.

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    1. I know you can name some workable ideas I have discussed. I am curious to know what ideas have been presented by Joy and Brent that match your criteria. Form what I read of their comments they are nothing like mine. Let me know what I am missing or if you agree with my statements here please leave me off the list of folks. Thanks for spelling my name correctly. I owe you a beer for that.

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    2. Clinton, we are in a thread where money was stolen by the state in bad faith, and the local leadership supported it. The compliant is that there wont be enough stolen money? The left should own this, own the “lib” label.

      A conservative would ask, why not fund light rail with the ticket sales? Why not get big corporations to get their own grants, loans, and put in their own money? Couldn’t these big projects sell bonds/stock? Stealing money from drivers is how WA plans transportation?

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  13. people-do the math! the edmonds budget in 2012 was 70.9 million. The mayors 2020 budget is 131 million. That’s an 85% increase in 8 years. The population of Edmonds in 2012 40,348. Current estimated population of Edmonds-42767. That’s a 6% increase. Darol rather than continuing to complain about the extra money being needed for infrastructure, you should ask where the h@!l are all our tax revenues going. And don’t blame it on inflation–inflation over the 8 year period has increased about 8%.

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    1. Doug, this is Darrol with 2 r’s, You are totally correct that we need to sort out where the money is going. The largest vote getter when we did the SAP was “Budgeting By Priorities” Council approve it twice but it has never been implemented. A good model of who BBP is done well is Redmond. The city did launch and effort to provide long term financial stability. That group is no longer in existence. Looking at the 2020 budget and the future forecast is pretty scary. It has for example the assumption that we will raise the EMS tax by 20%. I am looking at where we are spending our money and it basically people. And our reserves are dropping, all at the time when we are selling bonds, adding to our future expenses. As citizens we have very little power to reduce the expenses for projects but as voters we always like candidates who will commit us to projects that are costly and for which we have no funding. Marsh and Creek, $30m. Most candidates said they are in favor of both but no one told us where we would get the money.
      Doug I agree with you that we need to look at where the “h@!l” are tax dollars are being spent but one person’s “waste of money” is another persons or groups of persons “must have”. Unless and until we implement a citizen driven process like Budgeting By Priorities we will never control our expenses. Doug if you have ideas of what budget items we should cut I would do my best to learn about it an speak out about why you are right.

      I do believe in keeping our infrastructure in good shape first and then do the extras later but that is not the politics of this town. The only answer I can think of is what we already asked the city to do and that was to move forward with Budgeting By Priorities.

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  14. Darrol, I totally got that you are advocating sustainable revenue streams to take care of our town’s infrastructure needs and I totally agree with you about that need. I have no problem with you being on any commissions or boards and I’m not sure why one else would care, nor do I care why they care. I have no objection to anyone else who comments here being on any boards or commissions either. I think maybe we have too many boards and commissions and that our city government has depended a little too much on expensive studies to make their decisions about what we do and how we do it, but that’s another issue.

    You can suit yourself, but I’m not responding anymore to the ideologues’ negative comments and I’m going to try very hard not to be negative. If I have what I think is a good idea, I will toss it out there and if I see what I think is a good idea from someone else, I’ll give them a thumbs up. On rare (I hope) occasions I will comment against an idea that I think is really bad, and I will present reasons why I think it’s bad; or I will not comment. I’m trying very hard not to be part of any label in the areas of politics and religion. Wish me luck, I’m sure I’ll need it.

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  15. To Everyone on MEN,
    Mr. Darrol Haug came into my store this morning, and we had a very good discussion regarding the problems Edmonds faces. We are a lot closer on views than I thought.
    It was a true pleasure to meet Darrol, a true gentleman, and I am sure we will meet many times more in the future.
    Some night we will need to hash ideas at a local libation establishment.
    Lastly Darrol, thank you for the Beer!

    Everyone, have a great weekend.

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    1. Clint, a tax per wheel or just the whole thing because it has wheels. I was hoping to get a discount on my unicycle.

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      1. Darrol, there will be an exemption, of course, for mature men like ourselves riding unicycles. You will be required to qualify for exemption, however, by riding up Mainstreet hill full speed and non stop without using an oxygen generator pack. Good luck. C.

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  16. Brent and Darrol, I just read Brent’s comments and thanks so much to you two great guys for making my day.

    Getting back a little more to topic here, I have an idea on the car tabs issue. Maybe it’s time to quit thinking of it only in terms of a tax on cars (trucks, suv.s etc.) and more of a tax on wheeled transportation in general. How ’bout a flat tax, say $75.00 just for example, on wheeled vehicles of all varieties. I’m talking all varieties here; bicycles, motorcycles, skate boards, scooters (foot and motor powered), Segways, ATV.s, Rascals, golf carts, riding lawn mowers — basically anything that moves one or more people on wheels. I hesitate to say it but even maybe apply it to wheel chairs as those handicapped paved parking spots do cost money to supply to the public in general that needs them. This approach might spread the burden more fairly to all the users of the public roads and transportation facilities. These “licenses” , could even be used in data bases to help law enforcement track down stolen items of all wheeled varieties. Growing up in Lincoln NE. in the 50’s we had to buy metal licenses for our bicycles and have them put on with rivets at the fire stations, which was cool because we got to hang out there and talk to the firemen for a little bit.

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  17. I’ll start to listen to the other side when bikes are licensed (taxed) as well. They “share the road”, so, they should pay their way too.

    Libs want pay per mile? Better include the bikes in that proposal… both the one and two wheeled varieties (unless its a unicycle going up Main St. as proposed above 😉

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