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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tab tax returns to council agenda

A Spokane City Council vote two weeks ago rejecting a $20 annual vehicle tax appears to be only a bump in the road for supporters of the new fee.

Council President Joe Shogan vowed this week to reconsider the issue, and the council will decide Monday if it will hold a Feb. 14 hearing on the vehicle tab fee.

Last year, Spokane leaders created a Transportation Benefit District, which can enact vehicle fees of up to $20 without a public vote.

“We are going to proceed on the TBD come hell or high water – whether we pass it or not – because a lot of talk with no funding is a lot of talk,” Shogan said Tuesday during a council meeting covering street funding.

The tax is expected to raise about $2 million a year. Collections would start six months after final passage.

Earlier this month, a majority of council members indicated that they supported creation of the tax, but the measure failed because of disagreement over how to spend it. Shogan had argued that revenue should be used only for pavement maintenance. But others said that the money should be open to any project on the city’s six-year street plan and that 10 percent should be devoted to sidewalks. After the proposal to broaden the measure was rejected, Councilman Jon Snyder said he would no longer support the tax, and it failed on a 3-4 vote.

Council members have since come up with a compromise spending plan that would keep the requirement to spend 10 percent of the funds on sidewalks. The rest would be dedicated to pavement maintenance.

“Anyone who’s driving the streets lately probably expects us to take another stab at it,” Snyder said on Monday.

Shogan said he’s satisfied with the compromise.

“It’s a lot more focused than opening it up to all capital projects in the six-year plan,” Shogan said.

During Tuesday’s council discussion about streets, Councilman Bob Apple criticized his colleagues for not letting voters decide.

“I can’t imagine what your rationale is for not asking the voters about the tab,” Apple said. “I think it’s wrong, and I hope the voters take a really negative act towards those who think that they don’t have a right to have an input on it.”

Shogan said the tab tax is the only option the city has to get the money needed to improve the city’s potholed streets in the short-term.

“At some point we have to decide, ‘Do we have the guts to really do anything or are we just going to turn it over the voters or what,’ ” Shogan said. “I could see it if this was a multimillion dollar burden on the voters. It’s a $20 tab fee. That’s it. That’s not even a tank of gas.”

Nine cities have created tab fees since the legislature gave them the power to do so. If approved, Spokane and Prosser would be the only two cities with tab fees east of the Cascades.