(Added: Seattle Channel video of the Sawant/Licata announcement)
Two Seattle City Councilmembers say they have a different idea for raising tax money to avoid Metro Transit cuts. Less than a week after Mayor Murray unveiled his sales-tax/car-tab-tax plan, Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant have just announced that they are asking city staff to draft a proposal to raise money through a commercial-parking tax and the return of the so-called “head tax,” repealed in 2009 amid claims it hampered job growth. Those taxes could be imposed by a council vote. (They’re among the alternatives listed in the online poll the West Seattle Transportation Coalition is running until tomorrow; parking tax is currently the top vote-getter, head tax second from last.) They would not fully replace Murray’s proposal, though, reports The Seattle Times (WSB partner); they would replace the proposed sales-tax increase, but a car-tab tax would still go to voters. Here’s the official Licata/Sawant announcement:
Councilmember Nick Licata and Councilmember Kshama Sawant and individuals representing working people, elderly, disabled, students, and people of color announced their plan today to address proposed cuts to Seattle Metro bus service. The proposed plan would use a Commercial Parking Tax increase and an Employer Head Tax to prevent devastating cuts to transit.
With the failure of Proposition 1 on April 22, King County Metro will implement the first of four planned rounds of bus service cuts. If all of these cuts happen, 16% of bus service, or 550,000 annual service hours, will disappear.
“If approved by Council, the Mayor’s proposal will go to the ballot in November, but not in time to prevent the first round of cuts. These initial cuts, and the funding that would kick in if ‘Plan C’ were approved, places a burden on poor and working people,” said Licata. “There are other options, and they are options that don’t expose our most vulnerable populations to more regressive taxation. The City Council has the ability to implement an Employer’s Head Tax and increase the commercial parking tax to fund public transportation,” Licata added. “If the City Council moves on this, we can prevent devastating cuts. I have asked our policy staff to research exactly how much revenue could be raised through these means, and to begin drafting legislation to introduce to the City Council.”
During the past 25 years, Metro has increased its reliance on regressive taxation five times through raising the sales tax and Vehicle Licensing Fees. In addition, fares have also been raised four times in the past six years, with another proposed increase in 2015. Sales tax has proven to be an unstable revenue source: the dot-com crash in 2001 reduced sales tax revenue and forced Metro to scale back plans to increase service, and in 2009 Metro lost more than 15% of its sales tax base due to the recession.
“A functioning transportation system is critical to the working people who make Seattle and the wider region run. The ongoing cuts to Metro disproportionately affect low-wage workers, the elderly, the disabled, and people of color,” said Sawant. “As a regular bus rider, I stand with all the commuters in King County who are opposed to the looming cuts to these services. I am also in solidarity with Metro workers who are threatened with layoffs and a proposed wage freeze. Seattle’s poor and working people not only need the service to be maintained, they need a world-class mass transit system for this city to remain livable for them,” Sawant added.
“I support the most equitable and least burdensome revenue source(s) on lower income users when considering the critical funding for our Metro bus system,” said Rev. Paul Benz, Faith Action Network.
“Working people should refuse to accept that increasingly regressive taxation is the best we can do,” said Philip Locker, Social Alternative. “The only reason that no progressive funding options currently exist is because there is a lack of political will at the state, county and city level. Local elected officials have an obligation to fight to stop regressive taxation and to implement policies such as taxing big business and the super-wealthy, ending direct and indirect subsidies to large real estate developers, capping excessive government executive salaries, and ending corporate handouts to generate the revenue necessary to fully fund and expand mass transit.”
“With the findings recently published in the Third National Climate Assessment, it is clear that the US is already experiencing serious effects of climate change. The City of Seattle has the responsibility to act decisively to reduce our carbon impact on the environment,” said Jess Spear, 15 Now. “Maintaining and expanding public transportation has proven to be an effective strategy for reducing emissions and combating climate change.”
“We must organize and build our forces until we can wage an effective fight for new public transit funding and progressive taxation in Olympia,” said Katie Wilson, Transit Riders Union. “Until then we will continue to be driven by the logic of artificial scarcity, cornered into the false choices of austerity: Service cuts or regressive taxes?”
ADDED 5:59 PM: Councilmember Licata has written more about this on his website.