Talk of proposed Tacoma utility tax hike moving to courtroom, forums

Staff writerAugust 14, 2013 

Opponents of a ballot proposal to raise Tacoma’s utility tax to pay for street repairs are doubling down on their court challenge, even as the city administration backing the tax is working to get its message out to voters.

The group calling itself Stop Higher Utility Taxes moved ahead with its legal complaint Tuesday by refiling a request for an injunction to keep Proposition 1 off the Nov. 5 ballot.

The measure would levy an extra 2 percent tax on electrical, natural gas and phone utilities’ earnings.

The group had to refile its complaint for procedural reasons. The complaint argues the city-written ballot title is misleading because it doesn’t say the proposed additional tax is on top of an existing 6 percent tax, or that the taxes will be passed along to utilities’ customers.

Bob Casey, a former Tacoma Public Utilities board member who helped write the opposition statement, cited a requirement in city ordinance for Tacoma Power to pass to customers all taxes on “the sale and/or delivery of electric energy.” It’s not clear if that includes a tax on utilities’ gross earnings, like the one proposed.

The City Council would have to approve any Tacoma Power rate change, the city notes. It acknowledges rates could increase by 2 percent but says they would remain lower than others in the region.

Those are among the points city officials make on a new website devoted to the ballot measure, CityofTacoma.org/Prop1Facts.

The website highlights the estimated $10 million to

$11 million the utility tax would raise each year and the projects that would benefit, including:

  • 18,000 pothole repairs, doubling current work.
  • Repairs to traffic signal systems at 70 intersections.
  • Repaving on 510 residential blocks.
  • Faster improvements to 46 areas near schools, such as flashing beacons and handicap-accessible sidewalks.

“The issue really speaks to, in our mind, the importance of placing dollars dedicated toward streets, which has come up quite often as one of the No. 1 concerns of city residents,” City Manager T.C. Broadnax told the council Tuesday.

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