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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: With taxpayers likely facing other costs soon, STA’s Proposition 1 asks too much

Voters should reject Spokane Transit Authority Proposition 1.

We make this recommendation reluctantly. But a 50 percent increase in its sales tax levy, from 6 cents per $10 to 9 cents, demands too much of taxpayers who have been generous of late.

In November, they endorsed park and street levies and, in February, new school bonds. They did so in part because city and school district officials have proved themselves good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

STA officials and board members have been equally responsible, managing a system more efficient and less costly than its peers, significantly so in providing necessary but very expensive paratransit.

Unlike many other systems, STA maintains cash reserves that enable the agency to buy new equipment without incurring debt, and that money held service cuts to a minimum during the recession.

But the existing STA levy is a considerable chunk of the sales tax burdens in Spokane County, which in most jurisdictions is 2.2 cents per $1. What the STA wants in sales tax revenues from several communities – Cheney, Millwood and Liberty Lake among them – would exceed what they have available for police and fire services.

The increase sought in Proposition 1 would raise between $270 million and $300 million, depending on retail sales growth over the next decade. That’s just about what county officials once estimated a new jail would cost.

The potential price tag put that project on hold, but the Geiger Corrections Center must be replaced eventually.

Voters should be mindful, too, that the Legislature is debating a transportation package that will include a gas tax increase. And counties like Spokane that have been squeezed by high justice system costs, the recession and the annexation of areas with high sales tax yields are looking for relief from the 1 percent lid on annual property tax increases.

The area needs a port district to finance economic development.

With those other potential assessments in play, STA should roll back its ambitious plans to what can be achieved without tapping all of the 0.9 cents of tax authority the Legislature allows transit systems.

The plan’s centerpiece, a $72 million Central City Line, can wait. It’s sexy, but costly, and depends on federal money.

Better to focus on smaller steps, a West Plains transit center, for example. Residents could catch buses between Airway Heights and Cheney, say, without having to transfer in downtown Spokane.

More buses could shuttle Eastern Washington University students back and forth to Cheney, and new park-and-ride lots on the Moran Prairie, as well as Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley, could make the service more convenient for residents of those areas.

If the STA plans encompassed those components and extended service hours, a levy of perhaps 0.2 cents per $1 would be justifiable.

Everybody benefits from mass transit, particularly when a system runs as well as Spokane’s, but sometimes you have to touch the brakes.

Vote no on Spokane Transit Authority Proposition 1.

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