Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gapping the bridge.

One might ask the question, if roads and bridges aren't paid for by a government's general fund, from what revenue source should roads and bridges maintenance be paid? According to the City of Seattle, the answer is "Your shoe's untied! Look, shiny things!"

Proposition 1, which will raise a projected $325 million over the nine year life of the levy, is supposed to take care of the "routine maintenance" and "basic repairs" of "1,500 lane miles of arterial streets, 150 bridges, signs and sidewalks representing an economic asset of over $8 billion." All of this is from an admitted "backlog of maintenance work". Howls of revenue strangulation most often accompany any question about the need for new taxes to pay for this backlog of maintenance.

The City needs additional sources of tax revenue. In recent years, court decisions and public initiatives have restricted the City’s sources of tax revenue to fund transportation. In 1995 the Washington State Supreme Court declared the City’s residential street utility charge unconstitutional, reducing City revenue for transportation projects by $13 million per year. In 2002, voters statewide approved Initiative 776 which eliminated the vehicle license fee, a fee that generated $5 million per year to the City for transportation purposes. The state shared gas tax revenues for Seattle do not keep up with inflation due to annexations and incorporations.
Yes, there have been specific tax revenue streams which have been tightened or removed. In one case, a tax revenue stream was removed (noted in the quote above) because it was an illegal tax!

All of this is generally endemic of municipalities reliance on special, targeted taxes to pay for what should be basic infrastructure expenditures paid out of the general fund. So, what we have is a city placing illegal taxes on its citizens, then when the State Courts reverse those taxes, the city cries that their revenue stream has been "cut". B.S.

First off, from the rather large lens called "general revenues", the Seattle bankroll has nearly doubled [see Executive Summary] in size (with adjustment for inflation) since 1980 with a population which has shown relatively small growth:

While the street maintenance backlog has been growing, the city's total tax collections have increased on a year-to-year basis for more than a quarter century. Seattle's General Fund budget, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled since 1980, when it was $156 million. While the amount of revenue the city collects has increased sharply over 25 years, the city's population has remain constant at around 560,000 people.

According to the the Washington Policy Center, Seattle residents are currently burdened with no less than sixteen levies totaling approximately $1.4 billion dollars.

What is the most annoying factor of any property tax rate increase is that property taxes increase without the rate being bumped. In fact all taxes tied to the 'value' of a thing rise as the economy expands. This way, government could expand in proportion to the economy.

There's also the other issue that I've long suspected is the real reason for this levy: It's a way for Greg Nickels to start bankrolling his beloved tunnel project which is coming against increased opposition.

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