Saying we’re going to revisit and follow up on previously discussed topics might not grab your attention. But what if we merely mention the words “taxes” and “methanol plant”? Now we’re talking:
▪ When advocates of Sound Transit’s upcoming November-ballot measure refer to it as ambitious, they probably aren’t referencing the size of the tax grab. They ought to.
While the details still can be tweaked, here’s what Sound Transit is proposing in its financing package for its 25-year, $50.1 billion plan: An additional sales tax of 0.5 percent, on top of the 0.9 percent the agency is already getting; a motor-vehicle excise tax of 0.8 percent of vehicle value, in addition to the 0.3percent it’s currently collecting; and a new property tax of 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation.
That’s a pretty audacious dive into citizens’ wallets and purses; apparently, when offered a multiple-choice menu of funding options, Sound Transit’s board went with “all of the above.” (It didn’t impose an income tax because the state doesn’t have one — yet. But expect the calls for one to continue)
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The more audacious the plan, the greater the political risk. Perhaps Sound Transit’s leaders are calculating that their plan will fly below the radar of media and voter attention, what with a ballot crowded by high-profile races like president and governor. That might be hard to do with a proposal this size. Or perhaps they figure on marketing it with a standard “less than a latte a day” campaign, hoping voters won’t add up the cumulative bill and realize they’re buying oil tankers full of warm flavored-milk drinks.
They also might be calculating that voters in this region will vote for anything as long as it’s wrapped up in a feel-good cause, such as transit. But recent experience with another regional transit agency not far away suggests that’s not a risk-free bet.
TransLink, the transit agency for the Vancouver, B.C., area, went to voters last year with a $7.5 billion plan that included a light rail line between two close-in towns, Surrey and Langley, and extension of the Skytrain Millennium Line via tunnel under Broadway, a heavily used east-west corridor in the city. To pay for it, TransLink included a new 0.5 percent sales tax.
You’d think a proposal like that would have no trouble in a market like Vancouver. You’d think wrong.
The vote was 61.7 percent against. Even within the city, the vote was roughly split.
We’ll find out in November if the voters here are in a similarly cranky mood, and whether, even for them, there’s a point at which they say “enough.”
Because for government, there’s never enough. In his State of the County address, King County Executive Dow Constantine (who also chairs Sound Transit) called on the Legislature to remove what he called the “arbitrary” 1 percent cap on annual increases in property-tax revenue. “The cap denies counties the ability to raise revenues to keep up with inflation and population growth,” he said. And surely you wouldn’t want to deny them anything, now would you?
▪ Northwest Innovation Works, sponsor of a plan to build three methanol production plans including one on the Tideflats, might have experienced a you’re-on-your-own moment with comments emanating from Port of Tacoma commissioners, their putative allies and partners.
As reported by the News Tribune’s Kate Martin in two recent stories, port commissioners are complaining about a lack of answers and a lack of responsiveness from NWIW to questions and criticisms about the plant. The change in tone is striking; if you’d removed the names from the commissioners’ recent quotes and asked someone to attribute them, they’d be more likely to guess the words were spoken by opponents of the plant.
But now the commissioners are talking like opponents, or at least exhibiting a marked coolness toward extending the feasibility period of the lease when the request comes to a vote April 25.
Yes, that’s a lease for a project the commissioners approved and endorsed in the first place, but elected governmental officials don’t hold on to their jobs without some awareness of the political climate. And that reading of the climate may be telling them to tell NWIW, not so subtly, “You’re on your own, pal.”
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at email@example.com.