Editorials

Well, isn’t that convenient: Tacoma leaders put off gun tax, other big decisions until after election

The crowd at last week’s Tacoma City Council meeting was standing room only. All eyes were on the nine elected leaders on the dais. At least five news organizations stood ready to document what was supposed to be a momentous night of voting.

The final vote on a controversial firearm and ammunition tax was expected, but then denied.

Council members postponed until Nov. 12 a proposal to levy a $25 tax on every firearm sold in the city and up to 5 cents per round of ammunition; they said they needed more time to consider amendments.

Alas, Tacoma stakeholders who were there Tuesday to witness and speak out during a pivotal night in city politics left disappointed.

But, hey, at least the council got around to proclaiming October as Safe Infant Sleep Awareness Month.

Moments after Mayor Victoria Woodards announced that public comment on the gun-and-ammo tax had been canceled, most folks fled the room like they were late for a bus; others left reluctantly.

“I do want to apologize for having all of you come out and take the time to be here,” Woodards said before calling a five-minute recess so people could make their getaway. “It’s really great to see the chamber so packed and see people of Tacoma so passionate about issues we face, no matter what side you’re on.”

Council member Ryan Mello, who’s sponsoring the tax plan, acknowledged the palpable public frustration, telling the TNT: “This happens on high-profile issues that get a lot of scrutiny; sometimes they get postponed at the last minute.”

Well, OK. But you know what else happens with high-profile issues that get a lot of scrutiny? They get kicked down the road until after elections.

Leaders are paid to make hard decisions, not to wait until a more politically safe time when people have returned to their regularly scheduled programming.

We understand the value of being thorough; extensions on critical decisions allow more information gathering and an opportunity to hammer out differences. But neither can we ignore the fact that Tacomans preparing to vote in the Nov. 5 election are denied the opportunity to make fully informed choices.

Speaking of Election Day, the politically charged vote to consummate a public-private restructuring of Click, Tacoma’s municipal cable TV and wholesale internet system, won’t happen until that evening — a few hours hours before ballots are due, after most folks have sealed their envelopes.

Council members are under the microscope as they prepare to change Click’s business model, declare some of the city’s assets surplus and hand over management to Rainier Connect.

For incumbents Conor McCarthy and Keith Blocker, the timing of the gun tax and Click votes means their reelection to another four-year term will be won or lost without an official record of where they stand on two hot-button policy matters. Both McCarthy and Blocker have been endorsed by all their council colleagues and the mayor.

Are Tacoma leaders letting the clock run out on election season before resolving issues that are divisive, stir up acrimony and could serve as litmus tests for voters? That’s not such a wild conclusion to jump to in light of recent council actions, such as holding off until December to enforce a new code banning tents in parks.

In our view, some concerns related to the gun-and ammo tax could have been addressed earlier — Mello first floated the tax over the summer — while other concerns didn’t have to defer the vote.

Council member Robert Thoms told the TNT he’s still reviewing the idea of using some of the projected $30,000 in annual tax revenue to establish a gun buy-back program.

Blocker said he wanted to hold up the vote while he looks further into violence-prevention programs, where the bulk of tax revenue is expected to go.

Regardless of motive, the unhurried Tacoma City Council seems to have taken a line from Mark Twain’s playbook of wisdom: “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

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