City The Forever Tax
The city council passed an amended version of Mayor Nickels’s transportation tax package today. The package, which would pay for road and bridge maintenance citywide (full report in “In the Hall” this Wednesday) includes a tax on commercial parking (yay!); a $25-per-employee head tax on employers who don’t pay for bus passes (boo!—what about people who walk, bike or carpool? And Metro passes are more expensive than the tax); and a measure on the November ballot that would increase property taxes to pay for two-thirds of the proposed improvements.
The property tax has been billed as a $1.6 billion tax over 20 years. The problem is, the tax isn’t limited to 20 years. Under state law, it can last forever. That’s because state law prohibits cities from passing property tax increases that last longer than eight years. The 20-year timeline, in other words, is just a suggestion—a fact made abundantly clear by the nonbinding resolution the council passed as part of the tax package stating its “intention” that the city “will not levy any of the additional taxes that were authorized” under the measure. The resolution passed unanimously.