Behavioral health in Pierce County is a problem that touches us all. How do we best address the problem, not enable it?
This is a question our elected officials have been trying to answer for far too long. We need only look north to Seattle, where that city is spending more than $50 million a year to address homelessness and behavioral health, yet the problem is getting worse.
Pierce County needs a plan that will work and where success can be measured. Ordinance 2016-57, rejected by the County Council on Dec. 13, was not that plan. The ordinance only approved the new tax structure and formed a committee to develop a spending plan later.
It was made clear this election season in many debates and forums that a complete plan, supported by people all around the county, was needed before approving the tax.
Tacoma already has a .01-percent behavioral health sales tax, its City Council having approved it in 2012. Before imposing the same tax outside Tacoma, the county owes taxpayers a specific spending plan that shows those dollars won't just funnel back into Tacoma. Is that too much to ask?
Our group, Citizens for Responsible Spending, began studying the proposed behavioral health tax in earnest months ago and heard concerns outside Tacoma about how it didn’t have spending details.
That lack of specifics, combined with our concerns about the economic impacts of new tax collections under Sound Transit 3, prompted our group to "rally the troops" against the county’s ordinance.
ST3 is a $54 billion plan that creates new and endless increases in property, sales and motor vehicle taxes. It was soundly defeated by Pierce County voters on Nov. 8, but that didn’t matter because it was approved in both King and Snohomish counties.
The rejection by voters here won’t stop the regressive new tax hikes, some starting on Jan. 1. About 80 percent of tax parcels in Pierce County will see property taxes increased, and the glass ceiling of an overall 10 percent sales-tax rate will be broken in some areas.
If you think Pierce County can divorce from Sound Transit to avoid these new costs, you are mistaken.
Meanwhile, the number of vehicles and new costs from the massive hikes in car tab renewals is yet unknown. Vehicle owners will be surprised and angry when they get their renewal notices starting next month.
Was the impact of ST3 the reason that the Pierce County Council wanted to approve the behavioral health tax before new transit taxes became a reality? We may never know.
The questions now are: How will ST3 impact the Pierce County economy and how will the public react? What’s the impact on rents and affordable housing from ST3? How will transit taxes impact businesses in Pierce County? (Kitsap County auto dealerships are already advertising lower tax rates to attract car buyers.)
Why are some Pierce County leaders and the media in denial over the impact of ST3 taxation? Has Pierce County reached a tipping point for taxation?
Until we truly understand the full impact of ST3 on the Pierce County economy, we must demand a moratorium on any new fee and tax hikes. A study should be performed and time allowed for the impacts of ST3 to be absorbed by taxpayers and our economy.
Some County Council members were right when the behavioral health ordinance was discussed and defeated this month. This is not the time for another new sales tax, in light of the implications of ST3.
Taxing authorities are killing the "goose that lay the golden eggs" that fund our cities and governments. It's time for a pause.
Jerry Gibbs is the chairman of Citizens for Responsible Spending. He lives in Gig Harbor.