January 8, 2011 in City

Council to weigh tab tax uses

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

A commuter heads up Division Street on Friday. On Monday, the Spokane City Council will consider uses for money generated by a $20 annual tax on cars that was proposed last year.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

 The Spokane City Council will consider a proposal to broaden the possible projects that could be funded under a proposed vehicle tab tax at a meeting that begins at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

 After that meeting ends, the council will reconvene as the Transportation Benefit District Governing Board and consider the $20 annual tax.

A proposed $20 annual tax on vehicles that was foundering in December has found new life in the new year.

The Spokane City Council studied the tax for several months, but approved the 2011 budget without creating the fees on vehicle tabs.

The council on Monday will consider a plan to allow money generated by the tax to be used on transportation projects other than street paving maintenance. It also would require that 10 percent of the funds be used for pedestrian infrastructure. A separate proposal would create a citizens oversight panel for the tax.

The tax, which would be paid each year by owners of cars registered in the city of Spokane, is expected to raise about $2 million a year.

Supporters of the change say the tax still could be used to pay for paving maintenance, but would give the city flexibility when faced with other needs such as bridge rehabilitation and adding turn lanes, as well as upgrading infrastructure for bicycle and pedestrian travel.

Opponents say that in a city notorious for potholes, a tax on vehicles should focus exclusively on smoothing streets and vehicular travel.

City Councilman Richard Rush said the change would finally create a “dedicated funding source” to meet goals to improve pedestrian projects that have long been in the city’s long-term growth guide.

Rush said he’s “on the fence” about the tax unless the change is made, but he said citizens are demanding improved streets.

“What I’m hearing is we’d be penny-wise and pound foolish not to maintain our transportation infrastructure,” he said.

City Councilman Steve Corker said he’ll vote against the tax if any of the money can be diverted from street paving.

“Our primary obligation is to deal with the backlog of repair work and to deal with the fact that our street maintenance fund is not adequate to meet today’s needs,” Corker said.

The council last year gave itself the authority to create a tab tax. State law allows a tab tax of up to $20 to be created without a public vote.

City Councilman Bob Apple said the measure should have gone to voters.

“I don’t believe that we should as elected officials impose a tax just because we can without a buy-off from the public,” Apple said.

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