The Seattle City Council gave final approval to repeal (only McIver against) the $25-per-employee-per-year “head tax” that funded $4.5m a year in transportation improvements, notably for bicyclists and pedestrians, and exempted employees who didn’t drive alone to work.
Although Council President Richard Conlin insists bike and ped projects won’t be harmed, there’s discontent among advocates for those projects, and understandably so. That said, there may be less here than meets the eye.
There are two nice things about the head tax: one, it provides money for important projects, and two, it collects revenue in a manner that discourages socially destructive commuting.
Councilmember Sally Clark has a characteristically frank assessment of the revenue side:
The loss of revenue from the Employee Head Tax does mean we’ll have to shift some spending priorities. We’ll pay back bond debt over a longer period and, ultimately, pay more. Because the Commercial Parking Tax now generates more revenue than expected, I don’t expect the total volume of street projects completed will be any less than what was promised when Council adopted these taxes, but we’ll take on fewer “extra” projects in the coming years because we’ll use the unexpected higher revenue from the parking tax to pay off debt instead of revenue from the EHT.
One hope for further revenue is Nick Licata’s proposal to direct the Mayor to study diverting $15m in annual mobile speed van revenue to the pedestrian fund. That passed in the budget today, and Mayor McGinn will have to report by March 1st.
The other issue is the deterrent to driving, and I don’t think that the head tax was all that effective for that. Assuming the $25 incentive was even worth the staff time for the business to claim, the tax was entirely transparent to the commuter, the one that decides which mode he or she was going to take to work that day.