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Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

Rasmussen: Seattle needs transpo levy renewal or increase

by Matt Rosenberg January 10th, 2013

At a meeting this week of the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee, Chairman and Council Member Tom Rasmussen said the city will have no “other choice but to go back to the voters again in two years to ask for approval of extending or perhaps even increasing” the current “Bridging The Gap” levy before it expires in 2016, in order to continue progress on bridge maintenance, repair and replacement, and funding for other city transportation system fixes. His remarks came at the close of a presentation January 8th in which department officials accented some sobering facts. They stressed Seattle has a $1.8 billion deferred transportation maintenance backlog including more than $1 billion for bridges, retaining walls, public stairways and other vertical structures; and that current annual transportation maintenance spending of $40 to $50 million by the city is far short of the needed $190 million per year.

WA advisors give preliminary green light to mileage tax

by Matt Rosenberg December 4th, 2012

In a report released today, an advisory committee to Washington state transportation officials pronounced as “feasible” an envisioned and sure to be controversial working concept for charging drivers by the mile, to fund future surface transportation system needs in the state. In a draft feasibility assessment, work plan and budget reviewed today during a meeting in SeaTac of the Washington State Road User Charge Assessment Steering Committee, the body found the proposed mileage tax – which it prefers to call a road user charge – “is feasible in Washington” and warrants further study detailed in the report. Next steps would cost at least $3.5 million and present the state legislature with enough information to decide whether the mileage tax is desirable, and if so, exactly how it would be implemented. Lawmakers will decide in the coming 2013 session whether to proceed with more study.

Washington marijuana legalization bid: smoke and mirrors?

by Matt Rosenberg October 23rd, 2012

The Seattle Channel’s “City Inside Out” takes a look at Initiative 502 in an informative TV magazine segment below. If approved by voters, the initiative would legalize possession in Washington state of an ounce or less of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. Pot purchased from approved dispensaries would be taxed at a rate of 25 percent, adding as much as $500 million a year in state revenues, according to official estimates. Street busts of small-scale buyers and sellers, which clog courts and which some say unfairly ensnare African-Americans, would subside. But critics say the high tax would fuel continuing black market sales – and that because it’s still a federal crime to possess pot, I-502 raises more questions than it answers.

The question facing voters on the ballot: “This measure would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues. Should this measure be enacted into law?”

More from “City Inside Out.”

Here’s another debate on I-502, at The Washington Living Voters Guide, sponsored by the University of Washington’s UW Engage project, and the City Club of Seattle.

RELATED: “Marijuana legalization Leads In New Polls, But Not A Lock,” Seattle Times, 10/22/12


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA gas tax, license fee hikes eyed; local MVET option seen

by Matt Rosenberg September 23rd, 2012

Around Washington state this fall city councils, regional associations of cities and regional transportation planning boards are trying to find common ground on what sort of transportation revenue measures to push in the Winter 2013 session of the state legislature to address worn-out and crowded roads and highways and transit system preservation. High-profile electronic tolling in Central Puget Sound will cover only a modest portion of that region’s funding needs. Statewide, a governor’s task force early this year identified $50 billion worth of necessary surface transportation work in the next decade. But a recently approved Congressional transportation spending bill funnels only $1.3 billion here in the next two years. So cities are working to develop a consensus position to advance in Olympia. Several key possibilities, according to a staff memo to be discussed by the Bellevue City Council Monday night are:


* an increase of eight cents in statewide gas tax;
* a local option hike of baseline countywide vehicle license fee from $20 to $40;
* and perhaps even allowing counties to implement a one percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).


Though local option measures could advance this year, a statewide gas tax hike might have to wait until 2014. The one percent MVET could be a local option only, not imposed statewide. A city or county council would be able to approve it, or could choose to let local voters decide. Counties which adopted an MVET would get two-thirds of revenues for transit and roads, and cities would get the rest to repair and build arterial streets.

For King County, the Bellevue memo says, a one percent MVET would yield about $75 million annually. Likewise, as outlined in the Bellevue staff memo, an increase in local vehicle license fees from $20 to $40 would not be imposed but could be approved by an elected city or county council or a local transportation benefit district. Another idea being considered is an annual electric vehicle fee of $200.

Bellevue staff say a local option MVET is attractive because it can be used for all surface transportation purposes including transit whereas the gas tax is for roads only; and that the MVET is progressive, based on the value of the vehicle, rather than the same for all regardless of income or vehicle value, like the gas tax. Similarly, a City of Shoreline staff memo also dated September 24, on legislative priorities, says the progressive MVET is preferable to the flat vehicle license fee. However part of the political baggage carried by the MVET is a fair play problem, as some vehicle owners loudly voiced concerns over inaccurate value assessments and overcharging when it was previously in effect in Washington. There’s a thorny backstory, though. In a ballot initiative led by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman in 1999, Washington voters opted to end the oft-reviled MVET, and despite a later court ruling invalidating the measure, legislators chose to let it lie.

King County’s Metro bus service has a lot riding on extension and growth of the vehicle license fee. Following passage of enabling state legislation, the county council in August 2011 approved a temporary 2012-13 license fee of $20 to help maintain bus service and control congestion, with the proviso that a broader funding approach would be implemented in the future.

A gas tax hike of eight cents wouldn’t actually do much good, at least in the state’s most populous and traveled sectors, where mega-project tabs easily run into the billions. According to the Bellevue staff memo, a gas tax hike of eight cents would generate $2.56 billion in a decade with two thirds to the state and a third, or $896 million altogether, to local governments. But the memo notes, “this part of the proposal represents a very modest level of revenue when you consider that the cost of expanding I-405 south of Bellevue through SR 167 is $1.7 billion. the gas tax is attractive in so far as it is a user fee, a principle supported by the Council over the years. However, to address major corridors like I-405, the statewide gas tax level would have to be much higher.”

Although not mentioned in the memo, other unfunded or underfunded mega-projects dot the Seattle regional landscape. Completion of the replacement bridge across SR 520 on Lake Washington requires a missing $2 billion. High priority work on I-5 in Seattle to repair pavement and ease bottlenecks is estimated in the several billions. Crucial safety fixes to U.S. Route 2 in Snohomish County have been pegged at more than $1 billion. Likewise the extension of SR 509 to I-5 just south of SeaTac Airport, a key freight mobility and congestion relief project. Between 2010 and 2040 in the Central Puget Sound region of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, $64 billion more than anticipated revenue will needed to keep roads, bridges, and transit in decent shape, according to the Transportation 2040 report released by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

That’s why the state is moving ahead with first-stage exploration of a more sweeping approach to tax vehicles by the mile using on-board devices or other high-tech solutions. The Bellevue staff memo does mention this option, but says it “appears to be significantly difficult to implement and may be years away from widespread acceptance.”

RELATED: “How To Get Involved In The WA Vehicle Mileage Tax Study,” Public Data Ferret.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA eyes new U.S. transpo bill funds, but with questions

by John Stang July 18th, 2012

The passage of a new two-year $100 billion-plus federal transportation funding bill by Congress June 29 is expected to bring roughly $652 million to Washington state in 2013 and $657 million in 2014, compared to roughly $652 million for 2012, according to federal Department of Transportation estimates. But the new law is an authorization bill – meaning Congress still has to actually appropriate the money later when each fiscal year rolls around. Most telling, that $1.309 billion in the next two years is a tiny drop in the bucket, compared to the $50 billion that a blue ribbon panel appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire said in January that the state needs to raise to maintain and strategically improve surface transportation infrastructure in the next ten years (Page 3, here ). That’s so, even compared to the “lowered expectations” scenario in the task force report, which urges raising at least $21 billion in the next decade for the state’s road and transit systems. A poster child for Washington’s transportation funding shortfall is the new State Route 520 bridge, now under construction. It is still about $2 billion short of the needed funding, which totals more than $4 billion.

WA Revenue Dept. unveils sales tax-rate app for businesses

by Matt Rosenberg July 12th, 2012

The Washington State Department of Revenue has released an iPhone app, soon to appear for Andriod as well, that lets businesses doing transactions in different areas look up the local sales and use tax rates, which vary according to city and county. The department calls it “an ideal tool if you make deliveries to your customers in multiple locations.” It’s available at the iTunes store, where early reviews are positive.

Users first look up their location of sale by address, using GPS, or enter the zip code. Then they tap the “calculate;” key in the sale amount; and tap “done.” The app provides the local sales tax rate, and total amount due. The user can save the data for each transaction to a list. The list can be viewed, and also sent via text or email from iPhone.

“We are using the latest technologies to constantly adapt to the changing needs of taxpayers,” said Janet Shimabukuro, assistant director of the Department’s Taxpayer Services division, in a written statement. “The new app should help businesses get the right rate and location code quickly.”

The DOR statement continued, “The app will be particularly useful to mobile businesses such as contractors who need to code sales tax to the location where a service is performed. It also will help retailers who ship products from one location to another. Under Washington law, the sales tax must be coded to the destination of a shipped or delivered product.”

The department recommends users save the confirmation code for each transaction, in case of an audit.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

New report: still 100K fewer jobs in WA now than in 2007

by John Stang June 21st, 2012

Washington has had three recessions since 1990, but the current recession’s recovery has been glacially slow compared to the last two. Roughly 150,000 jobs slower, based on each economic recovery after 50 months. The slight recession in 1990 ended after a few months, and Washington’s employment grew by almost 200,00 extra jobs by the 50-month point. Washington’s recession in 2001 lost about 60,000 jobs, all regained at the 40-month point. Ultimately, Washington had 50,000 more jobs at the 50-month point than it did when that recession began. The 2007 recession has proved much more persistent, as a state report released yesterday again confirmed. Washington had lost almost 200,000 jobs after 30 months, and was still 100,000 jobs in the red at the 50-month mark in May 2012. This was part of the picture painted Wednesday in an Olympia briefing by the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which consists of Republican and Democrat legislative budget leaders, the state budget director, the state treasureer and a support staff of economists. The council released a meeting information packet including data on post-recession jobs recoveries in Washington, and their latest quarterly revenue predictions.

From 6/20/12 meeting packet, WA Economic and Revenue Review Forecast Council

The council’s June report mirrors a similar February report that predicted a very slow economic recovery and an accompanying slow growth in future state government revenue for Washington.