April 16, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 16

Dr. Wes

A regressive tax is not the best for funding public transportation, but it’s the only current route

By Dr. Wes Browning

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I was at a loss for what to write about this week until I got a ballot in the mail. An election! Hooray! I’ll run down all the candidates running for office this time around! There’s got to be half a dozen fools on the ballot. There always are.

I opened the envelope, fingers trembling with anticipation. Who would I get to laugh at this election cycle? And … the envelope says … the winner is … (Drum roll, drum roll, more drum roll …) King County Transportation District Proposition No. 1 Sales and Use Tax and Vehicle Fee for Transportation Improvements!

Oh, bother. Bus services and street improvements are good things, well worth the sales and use tax and vehicle fees. Especially the vehicle fees. Which would you rather do: pay the vehicle fee or share the road with tens of thousands more drivers who used to be able to take buses and get off “your” roads?

It’s also worth it to avoid the local recession that’s likely if the people stranded by however many (74?!) bus routes are eliminated can’t get to their jobs, bringing everybody’s economy down, not just theirs. Because, sorry, that’s how economies work: Poor people have to be able to work, so they can make money, so they can buy things, so you can have an economy at all. Stupid interconnectedness.

The Seattle Times came out against this Prop. 1 on the grounds that the taxes and fees were regressive. This may be historic, being possibly the first time ever in the history of Seattle that the Seattle Times objected to a tax just for being regressive. I know they’ve opposed taxes before, but they opposed them for being taxes, not for being regressive taxes, as I recall.

This time they say they’re for the bus service and the transportation improvements, they just think they should be paid for some other way, by a progressive tax.

I kind of agree. Since the Seattle Times editorial board likes the proposal, except for the taxation part, I think we could at least go halfway on it and send them a bill for some of it.

In the meantime, I’m poor, and I’ll live with the regressive tax scheme. Thanks, Seattle Times, for trying to get my back for once on this one, but I’m OK with it. It’s for a good cause.

It reminds me a little of the health care debate. I keep hearing people say, “Why should I pay for X kind of health care in my insurance, if I’m the sort of person who will never need X covered?”

Yes, and if I live six blocks from work and three blocks from a supermarket and five blocks from a library (which I do), why should I care if my taxes help pay for other people’s transportation?

Well, because the clerks at my supermarket take buses to work. My fellow employees, most of them, take buses to work. The library employees take buses to work. If all those people can’t continue to take buses to work, that puts the continued healthy existence of my work, supermarket and library at risk. It’s that stupid interconnectedness again. I can live six blocks from work because it’s there. It could stop being there if no one could afford to get to it.

The Times says that a “no” vote should not be taken as a sign that voters believe transit doesn’t matter. I totally agree. Likewise, a “yes” vote should not be taken as a sign that regressive taxation is OK, only that we don’t want our bus service taken away from us. We can talk about the regressive tax later. Right now, the bus service matters too much.

So let’s pass this thing now, and then, after it’s passed, let’s figure out alternative ways to pay for it. My vote would be to get the state to give up some of the money they will save when they finally come to their senses and stop building a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

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