From our partners at Move All Seattle Sustainably:

The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition urges the Seattle City Council to follow the outreach process it mandated when passing a $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) in November 2020. The Seattle Department of Transportation engaged stakeholders and struck a careful balance in its spending proposal that incorporated the City’s stated priorities of safety, climate action, mobility justice, and equity. SDOT’s proposal would invest 73% of the VLF on walking, rolling, and biking, while spending 24% on bridge maintenance.

The SDOT proposal is very reasonable and balanced. Council ought to propose bridge maintenance as part of the next capital levy in 2024. Doug Trumm at The Urbanist has some good suggestions on what such a plan might look like.

31 Replies to “MASS statement on the Seattle VLF”

  1. I don’t agree that the proposal is “balanced”. It talks about maintenance — yet the biggest areas of maintenance are pavement, lighting and signals and these appear totally ignored here.

    If Seattle is supposed to be “friendlier” to active modes, these can’t be ignored. We just increased the number of signals by a large percentage to make it safer for people to cross the street, and that’s an ongoing additional maintenance cost in the future, for example. Also, if drivers are dodging potholes we have growing in lots of streets, it takes their eyes off the road making them more dangerous for everyone. Bad street lighting is more pervasive as street lights are often covered by tree canopies and the newer LED bulbs don’t light the street broadly like the old ones did.

    This proposal appears more based on “popularity” than it does on effective transportation management to me. It appeals to hopes especially of bicyclists — but ignores many situations that we have already created and need to take ownership of.

    1. This isn’t the only money SDOT spends. They will continue to spend money on pavement, lighting and signals, as they always have. This gives them a dedicated source of money to spend on other things, such as the unfunded mandate to install new ADA curb ramps. Without this (or some other source of extra money) there would be cuts to work on pavement, lighting and signals why the city builds more curb ramps. There would also be cuts to everything else that is in this package (restripe marked crosswalks, replace crossing beacons, repair sidewalks, reducing accidents). Oh, and that reminds me, this does dedicate money to signalling (“crossing beacons”).

  2. Seattle seems to consider activist retweets as a key measure of public sentiment, which is a shame. Seattleites (particularly among the activists) deeply believe we have a mass transit system we’ll be able to use when the roads system breaks down, but that’s not the reality or the future at this point — we’ll have a few stops on the way to distant suburbs but not an urban network. In the meantime, buses, pedestrians, bicycles, cars and trucks will need to keep relying on the road system being taken good care of. Putting preservation into one-time capital revenue packages is no way to provide a reliable annual funding to meet asset management needs that Seattle has skimped on for generations.

    1. Unless there’s a repeal of Eyman’s 1% annual property tax limitation (as codified by the legislature post-invalidation) it’s essentially impossible for city funding to keep pace with maintenance needs without levies.

  3. I would hardly call Doug Trumm an expert.

    Bridge maintenance doesn’t magically disappear because a council wants to spend the money someplace else, although this council seems to believe this.

    The backlog has caught up to the city. Closing the West Seattle bridge for at least two years because it is too unsafe to use while retrofitting it because the council didn’t want to spend the money to fix it a few years ago is penny wise pound foolish.

    According to today’s Seattle Times the annual cost to finally address Seattle’s bridge maintenance for 77 bridges is between $34 million and $102 million each year (based on the state auditor and not SDOT).

    It doesn’t matter what the “split” in expenditures is from the $20 car tab fee. First spend the $34 to $102 million/year (as opposed to the $6.6 million per year spent in the past, increased to $14 million for 2021) to address bridge maintenance, and then whatever is left over can be spent on the usual fluff that tends to cost twice as much as estimated.

    The reality is the $20 tab fee increase will only raise $7.2 million/year (Move Seattle was $1 billion and delivered very little for that including half the projects) which the council will need to pledge to to borrow $100 million immediately because the condition of the bridges is acute.

    Sometimes an adult like the state auditor forces people and councils to grow up and get real about infrastructure, and the cost to TIMELY maintain infrastructure, because timely maintenance is always more cost effective than untimely maintenance.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this will raise no money for transit.

    When the council approved a much smaller levy for transit, the hope was that Eyman’s car tab bill would be repealed, and we could pay for it that way. Now that apparently is off the table. Are there any plans to raise more money for transit, or will we be stuck with crap?

    1. We appear to be stuck for the next 1 1/2 years at least. The council made the current TBD smaller than the last one, the VLF smaller than the last one, and is spending most of the VLF on non transit operations. The city could change its mind at any time, although there would be a 6-9 month delay until it gets to the ballot. When the whole population is vaccinated and offices do or don’t open and people do or don’t return to “normal” activities and the economy stabilizes, then it will be clearer how much more money there will be, and the city might try to boost transit service then. But that would be just a year or two after the city deprioritized it for other things, and it might not reverse itself easily.

      What is inevitably coming is Northgate Link and RapidRide G. These will automatically improve things overall even if the city does nothing. (Even though it will be worse in a few neigborhoods, the overall changes for the average rider are better.) So then the question becomes some improvement without action, or incrementally better improvement with action.

      I’ve long had a fear that the city won’t be willing to sustain the level of frequency we had in 2016-2019. The September level might be an indication of the future.

    2. My understanding is that the main blog post is talking about just the one pot of money, the councilmanic measure approving the $20 VLF that was intended to replace the voter-approved $60 VLF fee that expired at the end of last year. By law, the new fee cannot go into effect until July 1st, meaning that the TBD will only get half of its anticipated annual funding for 2021.

      The other two pots are the base $20 VLF that was created with the original TBD itself and the .15% sales tax levy that was put before voters last November and approved. IIRC, that compromise meant that the total STBD funding would remain at approximately the same level as previous years, but obviously be more subject to general economic conditions due to the higher reliance on the sales tax funding stream. However, that also means there is the upside potential that would come with a full, or better yet, robust recovery.

    3. The pie is too small. The Supreme Court ruled that I-976 was unconstitutional. The STBD set their 2020 course when it was still in doubt. The first $20 VLF is councilmatic; the next possible $60 require voter approval. Could not the STBD place a larger VLF on the ballot, say in 2021 for more funding?

  5. We should have tolling for the bridges to pay for fixing the bridges. This is a pretty simple concept that is easier to implement than ever. Every Seattle owned bridge should have a toll. It would vary depending on the bridge, to avoid pushing traffic where we don’t want it. It could go up and down during the day, which would help reduce congestion, although that wouldn’t be the primary goal. The main goal would be to raise money to fix the bridges.

    1. Agreed, but how do you define ‘bridge’? Tolling the bridges over the Ship Canal and/or the the Duwamish will be intuitive for the public, but what about tolling 2nd & 4th viaducts downtown, elevation changes like the 45st St overcrossing, or ravine bridges like Admiral Way? For example, I don’t think it makes sense to toll on Admiral Way between Walnut and 30th, even though that’s a bridge.

      Practically, I see 3 major toll cordons in Seattle, in addition to the downtown cordon associated with a congestion charge. Each cordon can raise revenue dedicated to the collection of bridges that cross that barrier.

      1. Ship Canal: Ballard, Fremont, University, and Montlake. Would be great if the state would allow an equal toll levies on 99 and/or I5, even if that money went to WDOT.
      2. Duwamish: West Seattle (both bridges), and then could also levy a simillar toll further south but those are far enough away that could perhaps be out of scope. Alternatively, could just covert the high bridge & the entire Spokane viaduct into a tolled freeway
      3. SoDo rail: A) 1st, 4th, and Airport Way, B) Lucille and Alboro (A & B could be grouped independently & have a different rates)

      And then I suppose you could toll all the access points to Magnolia (Fort, Emmerson, Dravus, and Magnolia), but then you risk giving them a new Magnolia bridge in return.

      1. I would toll the Magnolia bridges as well. That doesn’t mean I would rebuild the existing monstrosity. But hey, if folks want to pay for it with tolls, be my guest. The tolls would have to be awfully high to pay for it, though.

        There are bound to be political issues involving the rates. But it would start small. It wouldn’t raise all the money, but enough to make a dent (far more than this would). It is a lot simpler than the previous congestion plan, because there really aren’t that many bridges.

      2. Tolls practically require people to have transponders and an online account with the state. It’s one thing to put them on 520 and not I-90, and some lanes of 405 but not others, or even on both Lake Washington bridges like the Bay Area does. (Although the Bay Area has larger entities within each bridge-bordered area.) It’s another thing to extend this to the Ship Canal bridges, so that going from Capitol Hill to the U-District or Wallingford requires using a transponder and topping up your online account. That causes problems for people who don’t have Internet, and the state sometimes double-charges people for one trip, or charges them even when the car was sitting at home all day, and it’s hard to get a refund.

      3. Toll technology is advanced enough that a transponder is not needed; a paper bill is mailed to the owner of the license plate. I think the “what about people who can’t pay” argument holds about as much water for tolls as it does with paying for parking or ORCA passes; the implementation needs to be thoughtful but I don’t see anything that would prohibit a rollout. I think WSDOT has adequately invested in the technology & processes.

      4. “Agreed, but how do you define ‘bridge’?”

        Ah, and there’s the rub. SDOT has some 124 bridges that they solely own and are responsible for. (They inspect and do maintenance on a couple hundred more for other agencies and private entities.) They have a huge capital need funding gap for bridge maintenance and replacement, just like everywhere in our region and around the country. That’s not shocking news to most observers of course, but to put it into perspective, this is what SDOT said in its last published assessment report from 2018:

        “The reality is we have $3.4B in bridge replacement value for bridges that are over
        60 years old. If we spent $100M per year, it would still take over 30 years to replace these bridges, some of which would be over 90 years old by the time of their replacement. This level of investment for bridge replacement is not feasible in the near future. Therefore, we must invest in preservation strategies that allow bridges to last longer than they were initially designed to while continuing to provide safe, reliable travel.”

        Frankly, my first impression about the list of bridges you’ve designated for possible tolling is that it seems quite arbitrary. What are the criteria for tolling these particular pathways? Location? Type of traverse involved (i.e., natural versus man-made barrier)? Type of corridor involved? Traffic volumes? There are a lot of factors to consider before the decision-makers even start considering the implementation questions (e.g., does freight mobility get separate consideration).

        Fwiw, the bridge in South Park and the bridge at 5th Ave S and Seattle Blvd are both King County-funded assets. The entire inventory of bridges SDOT owns and/or manages (as well as retaining wall assets) can be found in the appendices included in the aforementioned 2018 report (which can be found on the SDOT page link shown below).

        http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/bridges-stairs-and-other-structures/bridges

      5. “Toll technology is advanced enough that a transponder is not needed; a paper bill is mailed to the owner of the license plate.”

        It costs a dollar or two more for that option. That adds up, so it’s not a feasible alternative if you live here and use the bridge more than once or twice a year.

      6. Who is responsible for bridges over I-5? The Beacon Hill 12th Ave Bridge? The 15th Ave bridge in Ravenna? The 23rd Ave bridge lid over I-90? The Fairview Ave Bridge north of SLU? The ravine bridges in Queen Anne? Would those also be tolled? It all pretty much tilts to just having a VMT tax after awhile.

      7. Oh come on Mike. Imagine you own a car. You have to pay insurance. You also have to pay tabs (what this post is about). Of course you get a “Good to Go” card. It isn’t that hard to setup, compared to buying a car or buying insurance it is a piece of cake. You don’t need internet access on a regular basis, you just need to get internet access, which is available at the library, community centers, and most houses. You seem to think there are folks in Ballard driving their old jalopy across the bridge to Magnolia or something.

        And as AJ pointed out, even if you don’t have good to go, you just get a bill in the mail.

      8. Frankly, my first impression about the list of bridges you’ve designated for possible tolling is that it seems quite arbitrary.

        Not really. It is based on the most expensive bridges, and their alternatives. Yes, Seattle has a lot of bridges. But most of them are fine or small enough that they don’t really count.

        So you toll the West Seattle Bridge, because we just paid to fix it. Toll the lower bridge, so that people don’t flood that one. Likewise toll the other Duwamish bridges. None of these tolls would be huge. They are a lot less than the 520 bridge, and less than the SR 99 tunnel. It would be higher for the high bridge, but still not huge (maybe a dollar there while the other one costs 50 cents). They don’t raise all the money, but they make a dent.

        The same thing is done for the Ballard Bridge. Toll all the bridges the city has to maintain over the ship canal. Don’t toll the I-5 bridge, since we don’t maintain it. If that sends more cars over I-5, big deal. Pretty soon we will be done with sending buses over I-5, except for the express lanes (which require the vehicle to be HOV). I wouldn’t expect a bunch of people to head that way anyway. For the cost, it won’t be worth it.

        The price would go up during rush hour (to around a dollar) which means it would be the closest we would ever get to congestion pricing. Except instead of being designed to reduce traffic, it is simply designed to raise money, for the very bridge people are using (or one that is quite similar, and would be congested if the other bridge were to fail).

        With Magnolia it is tricky, but that is the point. Right now, no one has any skin in the game. There is no incentive for Magnolia residents to do anything but push for a new, extremely expensive bridge that no one uses. Start with the other bridges, and then announce that for Magnolia, the toll is going to be higher, since very few people use that bridge (or the other ones). Do you want low tolls (on the Magnolia bridges) or a big bridge — you can’t have both. Suddenly there are folks in Magnolia arguing for a smaller bridge.

        Likewise, there will be people in Ballard saying that it is nuts to build a much bigger bridge, like what has been proposed. Keep it small, and cheap. You are basically nickle and diming to raise the money (which tends to be a lot more popular than charging a big chunk of money) while letting people know what they are paying for. You also give people an incentive to take transit (not a big one, but still). You also charge everyone (whether they live here or not). Neither a gas tax or a car tab tax can do all that. The car cab tax and even the gas tax is so abstract that people ignore it, or they complain after the fact, in the form of Eyman initiatives.

        It is highly unlikely that we will be able to pay for all the repairs alone, or with one type of tax. A mix is in order. Tolling has its advantages as mentioned. I would also pursue a local gas tax (although I think we would need approval from the state).

      9. “Not really. It is based on the most expensive bridges, and their alternatives. Yes, Seattle has a lot of bridges. But most of them are fine or small enough that they don’t really count.”

        So what you are saying is that your defining metric to institute local bridge tolling is the replacement cost (along with a bias toward water barrier traverses). There are other bridges Seattle fully owns that would also be quite costly to replace as well and yet they’re dismissed out of hand. (See the inventory on the referenced report. Heck, see the discussion of the 16 bridges in the city’s seismic retrofit program.) The city just spent $52 million on the Fairview Ave replacement bridge with a hefty lift from the Levy to Move Seattle. No tolling plan. The Jose Rizal Bridge is another bridge that would be quite costly to replace. It’s also over 100 years old and listed in fair condition today. It was included in SDOT’s audit of 77 vehicular bridges conducted just last year.* There are many other examples to list, so, yeah, this proposed list of local street bridges to toll seems rather arbitrary to me. They just seem like the easy targets.

        I tend to agree with Mike. Seattle is bisected by a natural (and man-made) waterway, not unlike Chicago and Portland. It seems rather unfair to city residents to institute tolling on the local street bridges they use to simply get across the ship canal, while other bridges across other barriers around the city are not tolled.

      10. So what you are saying is that your defining metric to institute local bridge tolling is the replacement cost (along with a bias toward water barrier traverses).

        There is a bias towards cost, function and simplicity. Taxing all the ship canal bridges makes it simple. They are all bound to be expensive to rebuild or replace. They all provide a similar function, and there is no alternative.

        On the other hand, the bridge over 8th Ave NW on Holman Road (https://goo.gl/maps/cF5YLRdqumyxCP9v6) has obvious alternatives. The good news is, that bridge is in good condition. Many similar, and smaller bridges (they type of bridges people forget about) are cheaper to fix, and in good condition (based on that report). Not all of them, obviously, but that is the not the biggest worry.

        There are other bridges Seattle fully owns that would also be quite costly to replace as well and yet they’re dismissed out of hand.

        I haven’t dismissed anything out of hand. I’m saying it should be another source of revenue. Like most tolls, it won’t cover the full cost. In many cases (like the example I gave) it would be impractical. For those bridges, we just keep doing what we are doing, and pay for it with other revenue. The same is true for paying for street repairs, traffic light repairs, and everything else the city pays for. If it makes people feel better, the money for the bridges can go only for *those* bridges. Just like the 520 tolls only go for 520.

        The city just spent $52 million on the Fairview Ave replacement bridge with a hefty lift from the Levy to Move Seattle.

        Exactly. This is a crucial bridge that was very old, and if memory serves, had a ton of cost overruns. Yet it only cost $52 million to fix. That is peanuts compared to the big bridges. Replacing just the Ballard Bridge is estimated to cost $320 to $400 million. The Magnolia bridge replacement ranges from $190M to $420M. We dodged a bullet with the West Seattle bridge in that repair will “only” cost $175 million. The drawback, of course, is that the bridge may not last that long (unlike the brand new Fairview Avenue Bridge).

        This doesn’t mean there is an exact one-to-one relationship. The Jose Rizal Bridge would be expensive to replace, and has alternatives. You don’t toll it, because tolling is impractical. That is just a general expense that everyone chips in for. While fixing that bridge wouldn’t be cheap, it would still likely cost a lot less than just one ship canal bridge.

        But again, like the 520 bridge, the tolling doesn’t pay for everything. Unlike the 520 bridge, I wouldn’t require it pay for a set amount, either. If fewer people go over the bridge, great. There would be some give and take, and discussion as to which bridges to toll, and by how much. But that is the nature of taxes. If you’ve ever had to deal with state B & O taxes, you know how complicated it all is, and can just imagine how they argued over how to tax various industries.

        But I don’t buy that people have a special right to free access of the ship canal bridges. You would be paying for something you use. Yes, it is common, but that doesn’t mean it is essential. If you live in Ballard, you may rarely use the Ballard Bridge. You don’t go to West Seattle. You use your car for groceries, mostly, and other errands that you can accomplish without going over a major bridge. When you do go over the bridge, you usually just take the bus. Asking this person to pay huge car tab fees to fix the big bridges seems less fair than a mix of tolling and car tabs.

  6. The Good To Go pass is easy to order and install in your car (at least if you are a law office), and to set up an account (and you can write it off if business use). However the administrative costs are quite high, not unlike traffic cameras. And of course it encourages drivers to use alternative routes, like Seattle surface streets or I-90 or 522.

    The real problem IMO about the Good To Go system is a lot of poorer citizens don’t set up an account, and the tolls hit them harder. For example, if I am going to Bellevue from Seattle and I think traffic might be bad (pre-pandemic) I would take 520 and pay the toll to avoid the traffic (and write it off). I also will take the new tunnel from say Northwest Hospital to the I-90 entrance rather than take I-5 despite the toll due to congestion. Same with HOT lanes on 405. The more affluent get better and faster use of the roads if they are tolled. You just have to see the cars in the HOT lanes on 405 during rush hour to understand that.

    Plus if you don’t have an account and the bill arrives by mail it is much more expensive, and if for some reason you don’t pay the bill on time the penalties are harsh. Not surprisingly people on limited incomes either avoid tolls, or don’t set sign up for the Good To Go pass, or don’t get the mailed notice so they incur steep penalties.

    When it comes to tolls, that is mostly a political decision. In my experience tolling an existing road or bridge that is not currently tolled is very contentious. If the citizens (who own 460,000 cars in Seattle) get the feeling the toll is more of the anti-car Urbanist schtick rather than a way to pay for something new they will raise the massive subsidies for transit and questionable ST projects, which of course is exempt from the tolls.

    Look, if the toll is necessary to build a new bridge, that means you want as much car traffic as possible (a problem 520 is facing right now, which means higher tolls which means less use and tolls, which is a dangerous spiral if you can’t toll I-90 or 522).

    It also means all vehicles that use the bridge or road should pay. A lot of poor people drive trucks and cars (and have to for work), and a lot of affluent folks ride the bus, especially during peak commutes. I think a lot of Urbanists or transit advocates don’t really understand that: a lot of poor people drive cars or trucks, because they have to, and their tolls are not subsidized like transit fares are, rich or poor.

  7. I think a lot of Urbanists or transit advocates don’t really understand that: a lot of poor people drive cars or trucks, because they have to, and their tolls are not subsidized like transit fares are, rich or poor.

    I think a lot of Urbanists understand that a lot of poor people drive cars and trucks. I don’t think you understand that they are subsidized, and don’t pay the full cost of their driving. If they did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion (these would all be paid for via gas taxes, tolling or car tabs). The fact that all drivers are subsidized is why we have this shortfall.

    1. “I think a lot of Urbanists understand that a lot of poor people drive cars and trucks. I don’t think you understand that they are subsidized, and don’t pay the full cost of their driving. If they did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion (these would all be paid for via gas taxes, tolling or car tabs). The fact that all drivers are subsidized is why we have this shortfall.”

      Ross, the discussion is whether to toll roads and bridges. For example, this link suggests 63.5% of roads and bridges are funded by vehicle fees, user fees and tolls, and gas taxes in WA state. https://taxfoundation.org/states-road-funding-2019/ IIRC ferries must recover 65% of their costs.

      The farebox recovery goal for Metro is 20% and and 40% for light rail, although neither right now is meeting that target.

      The question isn’t whether roads are subsidized for the poor and working poor, but whether it is a disproportionate burden on them to toll roads and bridges, when transit has such massive subsidies, and often serves are riders who more affluent than drivers.

      The point of my post was more affluent drivers benefit from tolls because they can afford the special privileges, while the working poor and poor can’t afford those privileges. Few taxes are more regressive than tolls, especially when those poor drivers are already paying two and three times towards cost recovery to use the roads than transit riders pay for transit costs, and pay nothing towards the road and bridges.

      1. This line of argument is true of any use fee, or really any excise fee. Progressivity in taxation is not a holy grail.

      2. Personally I believe progressivity in taxation is a holy grail.

        OK, cool. So get rid of car tabs, gas taxes, transit fares, fishing licenses, driver fees, professional license fees, admission for the zoo and aquarium along with tobacco and alcohol taxes, B & O taxes and sales taxes. Pay for everything with a wealth and income tax. Sounds good to me — I think you are ready to run for the Seattle City Council.

  8. One idea is to place a measure on the ballot to allow citizens to vote whether their ST subarea could reallocate ST 3 tax revenue to bridge repair and replacement, and thus avoid tolls or general tax increases.

    For example, the eastside subarea could vote to use the ST 3 tax revenue for the Issaquah to South Kirkland rail line to pay off its half of 520,or the bridge repair and replacement. The cost of the second transit tunnel in Seattle would effectively pay to replace or repair every deficient bridge in the N. King Co. subarea identified by SDOT as deficient without a single toll or tax increase.

    Look, there is virtually no way I can think of for Seattle to come up with $3.5 billion to address its bridges, even over 30 years. The additional $20 tab fee will raise $7.2 million/year, which is spit in the ocean. Plus I highly doubt the ST 3 projects including the second tunnel and West Seattle to Ballard line will get built anyway. As for the Issaquah to S. Kirkland line, that is a silly idea because the East King Co. subarea didn’t know where else to spend its ST 3 revenue.

    Another benefit of such a ballot is it could educate residents of the different subareas just how much in tolls or other taxes they will have to pay to address their bridges, which will have to be funded one way or the other, and at least for N. King Co. the likelihood it will never get its ST 3 projects, but will still pay for them, maybe past 2041.

    If citizens in one subarea like Seattle decided to instead fix all the bridges with ST 3 revenue that generation will have have addressed the bridge issue for 60 years for the next generation. If they decide to not use ST 3 funds then they can’t really complain if new or repaired bridges are tolled or general taxes are increased to fix the bridges, because we all know every community will demand no loss of car capacity for any new bridge, and the politicians will go along.

    Personally I would vote to fund all the bridges in east King Co. rather than build light rail from Issaquah to S. Kirkland because I don’t think anyone will ever use that line anyway, and the bridges have to be addressed no matter what.

  9. “Personally I believe progressivity in taxation is a holy grail.

    “OK, cool. So get rid of car tabs, gas taxes, transit fares, fishing licenses, driver fees, professional license fees, admission for the zoo and aquarium along with tobacco and alcohol taxes, B & O taxes and sales taxes. Pay for everything with a wealth and income tax. Sounds good to me — I think you are ready to run for the Seattle City Council.”

    Taxes and fees are treated differently legally, and some can have a certain progressivity and some cannot. But many of the fees Ross lists do have progressive elements. For example:

    Car tabs are based on the value of the car.

    Transit fares are so heavily subsidized to begin with (80% and 60%) it is hard to figure out any more progressivity (especially no fares end up resulting in transit no one wants to use), but low income individuals can get reduced fare cards and so do seniors (which I have never understood considering the elderly hold most of the wealth in the country, and there are many wealthy elderly transit riders). In three years I get reduced fares and entrance fees. Crazy.

    Same with the Zoo and Aquarium. Kids and seniors get discounted entrance fees.

    Tobacco and alcohol taxes are sin taxes and have a much different purpose (like sugary soda): to discourage use for health reasons. It would make little sense to tax the poor less for alcohol and cigarettes.

    B&O taxes are based on gross income, so yes they are progressive.

    Sales taxes are progressive in that certain mandatory purchases are exempt, like food and medicine, although still sales taxes are pretty regressive.

    Few things are as regressive as tolls. And I disagree with the current trend in which every single thing is taxed in this country.

    I don’t know for sure, but I have always suspected WA state citizens’ main opposition to an income based tax is because it has no limit, and our current legislature has shown no restraint in spending. Folks in support of a state income tax often deride those who vote against an income tax although it may benefit them as stupid, but I am not so sure.

    I think if a constitutional amendment were placed on a ballot that allowed an income based tax along with what CO does, limit total state revenues from all taxes to a percentage of GDP, it could pass, except income tax proponents are not interested in fairer taxes, they are interested in more taxes.

    Take the recent passage of a 7% capital gains tax on gains over $250,000 (excluding real property). Inslee’s original plan was a 9% tax on any gains over $25,000, which would hit the middle class and seniors hard.

    The proponents and governor initially claimed the $415 million raised (under the current bill) would help offset regressive taxes (an initial draft contained a sales tax rebate for poor citizens but was dropped), but that was a ruse. The capital gains tax is just another way to generate more tax revenue.

    If the current state supreme court applied precedent to the recently filed litigation it would find the capital gains tax unconstitutional, but the court has swung well to the left with some Inslee appointments.

    That means there will be an initiative, because the bill contains language precluding a referendum because an initiative requires twice the number of votes to qualify for a ballot (an nice touch of fascism). Even though the new capital gains tax will only apply to 7000 WA citizens (and news alert, the largest tax payor by far, Jeff Bezos, has probably changed his residence to TX where his ranch is) my guess is a majority of voters will vote to repeal, in large part based on the massive increase in the recent state budgets.

    I don’t have $250,000 in capital gains each year and so won’t be affected. Plus the fact passive income is not subject to payroll taxes has always bugged me. But I don’t trust this legislature with any kind of income based tax without limits on total spending compared to state GDP so will probably vote to repeal, with a majority of citizens.

    If tax regressivity were really the issue Democrats would agree to cap state spending as a percentage of GDP to pass an income tax and lessen the regressive tax burden on poor citizens, but tax regressivity has nothing to do with it.

    I also would not bank on $415 million/year, in part because many residents will change their residency (especially since WA has the highest estate tax in the country), and because it is very easy for someone to borrow against stocks — very popular in a rising market — for a purchase like a home to avoid the gain.

    I think the litigation will be very interesting, and imagine an initiative will let our current legislature know whether there is any appetite for a true state income tax considering the $10,000 cap on SALT taxes will probably not be repealed.

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