Opinion

$20 car tab fee to fund city transportation improvements is bad idea | Island Forum

The Mercer Island City Council reviews the city’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) annually.  The TIP is the City's plan for maintaining and expanding our transportation facilities (auto, bicycle and pedestrian). Every year for the last 6 years, the funding for the Council's TIP has been projected to be negative in years 3-6.  Every year we entertain a $20 car tab.  This year is no different other than a Council majority will likely approve a new Mercer Island $20 car tab.  This year's TIP deficit is about average compared to prior years.  There is no reason to panic and think we need a new tax to address the negative balance in years three through six.  The Council always has more projects than match our revenues.

The recently defeated Prop. 1 Metro tax consisting of a $60 car tab was soundly defeated by King County voters.  Mercer Island voted Prop. 1 down by a 52%/48% margin.  Because of Prop 1's defeat, Metro must decide between increasing user fees and implementing efficiencies or cutting services.  I have confidence they will choose the former. Based on the ten year life of the tax, Prop. 1's defeat means over $4.5M will remain in Islanders' pockets that otherwise would not have been available for personal savings, education expenses, mortgages and daily expenses.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Prop. 1's defeat is that Islanders are more likely to vote for a state transportation package in the form of an 11 cent gas tax.  Approving a state transportation package is critical in keeping tolls off I-90.  The same relationship between Prop. 1's $60 car tab holds for a Mercer Island $20 car tab.  Any additional transportation tax discourages voters from voting for a state transportation package.

The Council's duty is to prioritize your tax dollars. Arterial streets, residential streets, Mercer shoulders, 84th Street sidewalks,  safe routes to schools are a priority government service that you should expect from the city.  The city, with the Council's direction, can fulfill this public service obligation without additional taxation.  We have several funds designated for lower priority services or yet to be determined projects.  The Revenue Stabilization Fund ($300,000), the Capital Reserve Fund ($351,552).  The Beautification Fund ($690,474). We can and should prioritize projects outside these "fund silos." These self-imposed "silos" keep our government  from running  lean.    Our transportation needs can be met without taking the extreme move of a new tax.

The Council Majority directed staff to plan as if a $20 car tab is in place.  Using this $20 car tab assumption, the Council will find itself in the predicament of funding lower priority projects before funding higher priority transportation projects.  Normally, this realization of having critical projects but no money happens the last meeting before the holidays when we find ourselves short of time, short of money and short of patience.

As a political body, we listen and we lead.  If the Council is not asked to re-prioritize it's spending by our annual June 14 Mini-Planning Session, the Council will approve a new $20 car tab for 2015 or 2016.

 

Mike Cero is a Mercer Island City Councilmember

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