A paper mill and a lumber company top the list of businesses financing the campaign against Tacoma’s Proposition 1, a proposal to tax utility companies to fund city street repairs.
The committee opposing the measure, Stop Higher Utility Taxes, has raised $62,340 so far – mostly from local companies and business groups, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Meanwhile, the group supporting the tax, Fix Tacoma Streets, has raised $40,800 from labor groups, construction companies and a few Tacoma elected officials.
Together, the campaigns have made it the most expensive local contest on the Nov. 5 ballot in Tacoma, outstripping the money raised in each of the three contested City Council races.
Proposition 1 would increase the utility earnings tax on natural gas, electricity and phone companies to 8 percent from 6 percent. City officials estimate the measure would generate $10 million to $11 million each year for street repairs throughout the city.
The biggest contributors to the opposition campaign were Simpson Tacoma Kraft and Manke Lumber, each of which contributed $10,000.
Executives at Simpson, which runs a pulp and paper mill on the Tacoma Tideflats, have told Tacoma officials they expect utility companies to raise their rates to cover the cost of the tax. Dave McEntee, a Simpson vice president, estimated that electricity rate increases caused by Proposition 1 could cost Simpson $500,000 a year.
The business-oriented Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber also opposes Proposition 1, saying its effect on utility rates will hurt local businesses. The chamber contributed $5,000 to the Stop Higher Utility Taxes group, as did a recently formed political action committee called the Tacoma-Pierce County Business Alliance.
Gary Brackett, business and political manager for the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, said its members think Tacoma officials need to prioritize road repairs within the city’s existing budget instead of seeking new money. He said the $10 million to $11 million that Proposition 1 would raise annually isn’t enough to make much of a dent in the city’s $800 million backlog of street repair needs.
“They’re not going to solve the problem for 80 years,” Brackett said. “This is just a Band-Aid.”
On the other side of the issue, unions and construction firms make up the biggest supporters of the Proposition 1 campaign.
The biggest donor to the Fix Tacoma Streets committee is Teamsters Local 117, which gave $7,500. The union represents about 16,000 workers, including about 250 city employees. Other major donors include engineering firms, architectural consultants and construction companies, which have collectively contributed $28,500.
Some of the companies, such as an asphalt supplier on the Tideflats and a pavement striping company, theoretically could bid on some of the projects that Proposition 1 would fund.
Fix Tacoma Streets says Proposition 1 would repair 3,600 potholes each year and repave more than 510 neighborhood blocks in the next five years. The measure also would pay for safety improvements in school zones, improve traffic signal timing and help maintain city bridges, city officials and supporters of Proposition 1 say.
Passing the tax measure would help the local economy, not hurt it, said Mark Martinez, co-chairman of the Fix Tacoma Streets committee and executive secretary of the Pierce County Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents about 6,000 construction workers.
“Our roads are in terrible shape and something needs to be done about that,” he said. “The second thing is it will create jobs – jobs for a section of the economy that is suffering from the recession.”
A few elected officials who voted to put Proposition 1 on the ballot are backing it financially. Mayor Marilyn Strickland has contributed $500, while City Council members Ryan Mello and Lauren Walker have donated $200 and $100, respectively.
Though the committee supporting Proposition 1 has raised the least money, it so far has spent the most of the two campaigns. Fix Tacoma Streets has spent $20,847, more than half of what it has collected. Most of that – about $12,000 – has gone to the Seattle-based consulting firm Northwest Public Affairs. Another $6,000 went to campaign manager Dillon Gilbert.
Stop Higher Utility Taxes has spent $12,632 of the $62,340 it has raised. The money has gone toward paying political consultants and buying campaign signs, according to campaign spending reports.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209