Among the many postcards, letters and glossy pamphlets voters have received this election season is the city of Tacoma’s “facts and information” mailer about the city's Proposition 1.
Earlier this month, postal carriers slipped a city pamphlet into each Tacoma mailbox -- and some just outside of the city limits.
It’s no secret that some people outside of Tacoma dislike Tacoma’s Proposition 1, which would tax utility company earnings by an additional 2 percent to fix Tacoma’s street conditions. Part of the reason is Tacoma Power would also have to pay the tax, and almost half of the utility’s customers are located outside of Tacoma. While Tacoma Public Utilities officials have said they do not plan to ask for a rate increase in 2014, the utility could, at some point, ask the Tacoma City Council to approve rate increases to cover the additional cost of the tax. This rate increase could eventually be paid by all customers, including those outside of Tacoma.
University Place’s City Council voted earlier this month on a resolution against Tacoma Prop. 1. Lakewood followed suit Monday with a similar unanimous vote. And the Pierce County Council is poised to discuss opposition to Prop. 1 next week.
But back to the mailer. Why is the city sending election information to people outside of Tacoma?
“The (Public Disclosure Commission) allows one citywide mailer,” said Mike Gent, assistant to Tacoma’s interim public works director. “The Post Office gives you a discount if you include all of a zip code, so in order to save money we included all zip codes that have a Tacoma address.”
Some of those zip codes stray outside of Tacoma’s city boundaries, Gent said.
The city’s mailer, printed in full color, explains what Prop. 1 would pay for and what it would cost (the same information, and much more, is available on the city website). Gent said the mailer cost the city $21,000 to print 125,500 pamphlets and $19,700 to mail them. The state’s Public Disclosure Commission allows governments to send information to voters about items on the ballot as long as they are not advocating a position. School districts often send informational mailers to households before an election on a maintenance and operations levy. The state also required the city to send a mailer to all physical addresses in Tacoma, and not a smaller section of the population, such as registered voters, Gent said.
City spokeswoman Carrie McCausland said the city ran the mailer by officials at the PDC to make sure they were following the law.
Among the PDC’s comments on the city’s earlier draft of the mailer was to remove the ballot drop box locations, removing the word “transparently” from the pamphlet and removing a heading that stated “citizens have told city officials …” because it could be seen “as an attempt to generate an aura of consensus around a ballot proposition.”
Judging from recent campaign finance reports, consensus might be hard to find.
Kate Martin: 253-597-8542