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Opinion

Alternatives to STA sales tax won’t help

On Tuesday’s ballot in Spokane County are measures that seek to maintain two vital functions of thriving communities: good public transit and good public schools.

The Spokane Transit Authority needs a 0.3 percent sales tax increase to maintain its current level of service. That’s a small portion of the savings voters realized when the motor vehicle excise tax was repealed, putting the STA in its current predicament.

Voting no won’t punish the old transit system. It’s history. STA has impressive new leadership and a new attitude. Some proposed alternatives to a tax increase indicate people don’t understand how much money the agency lost:

“Sell the Plaza.” The downtown STA Plaza cost nearly $20 million. If it were sold for $30 million and not replaced, the proceeds would cover STA’s shortfall for two years. Then what?

“Trim the fat.” If Plaza maintenance and the entire non-union administrative staff were eliminated, and the system magically ran itself, STA would save 11.6 percent of its budget. It would still need nearly three times that amount to preserve current service.

“Buses are too big, too empty.” Eighty percent of the cost of operating a bus is labor and fuel. The typical bus is 40 feet long. STA has begun purchasing 35-foot and 29-foot buses, but the fuel and maintenance savings are minimal.

Buses often have demand in one direction. Buses are crowded in the morning when headed to downtown and Eastern Washington University, but not on the return trips. In the late afternoon, the passenger load moves in the opposite direction. Schools, arenas, libraries and other public venues also experience times of heavy and light use. Sometimes they’re empty.

“Why pay for a service I don’t use?” Schools, libraries, museums and parks are just some of the services governments provide whether or not a taxpayer uses them. But most childless people still see the benefits of good schools. The benefits of paying for bus service are cleaner air, less traffic, economic development and helping people who cannot afford a car.

The Spokesman-Review recommends passage of the following school measures:

• Mead School District is asking for $37.7 million worth of bonds with which to build a new elementary school and replace an aging middle school. The project also includes a variety of upkeep measures. Approval would cost district property owners an additional 52 cents per $1,000 of valuation, but that amount is mitigated by 5 cents in savings achieved by refinancing earlier bonds.

• West Valley School District is asking for $35 million in bonds for full renovation of 43-year-old West Valley High School, plus various improvements at City School and four elementary schools. Approval would cost property owners 99 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

• Nine Mile Falls School District is asking for $7.99 million in bonds for extensive remodeling and upgrading of its two elementary schools, plus expansion and upgrading of high school science classrooms. Approval would cost property owners 95 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

Each district has made a compelling case to keep up with student enrollment, technology needs and the usual wear and tear.

 

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