These are taxing times in levy-loving Seattle
By the end of this year, Seattle residents could be paying for eight special tax levies. No other city in King County has more than one.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The natives apparently are getting restless. Even in true-blue Seattle.
“I hear it everywhere I go now,” says Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “People keep asking why we’re doing all this. They ask: ‘How much more can you send at us? How much more can we take?’ ”
The topic? Taxes, believe it or not.
I’d guess the chances that Seattleites are about to dress up in tricorner hats for a real tax revolt are about the same as the tea party winning a seat on the City Council. Zero.
But it’s also true that no city around bombards its people with special levies or funding requests quite like we do.
On Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray rolled out his Seattle-only plan to pay for Metro Transit buses. It’s like the old plan that was defeated last month (a $60 car tab and a 0.1 percent sales tax). Except the money — $45 million a year — would be raised solely in Seattle and mostly spent there, too.
That’s on top of a $48 million-a-year parks measure, on the August ballot, that will be the largest special levy in city history. The previous record-holder was the $40 million a year “Bridging the Gap” roads levy (which officials have said they will ask voters to renew next year — after no doubt boosting the price tag).
Up next, on Thursday, Murray and City Councilmember Tim Burgess plan to announce their program to provide universal preschool in Seattle. It will require another special levy. Burgess says it will be $58 million for four years (so about $15 million a year).
And last week the council discussed putting on another levy to pay for public financing of city elections.
All told, a city that already has six special taxes totaling $145 million a year could by the end of this year have eight totaling $228 million — a 57 percent dollar increase. No other city in King County has more than one.
“I don’t think this is unreasonable,” Murray said of his tax-hiking spree. “It reflects Seattle values.”
If you’re feeling fatigue at all this, council members say: Blame Tim Eyman. The property-tax cap inspired by Eyman forces the city into paying for services “a la carte,” one special request at a time. They said constantly asking for more money creates a perception that taxes are high, but they remain about average for a big city.
“The reason we keep going back to this well is because of Tim Eyman,” Burgess said.
Except other local cities have figured out how to survive under Eyman’s boot heel without being in a perpetual state of need or crisis. Bellevue, for instance, has only one special levy, a parks tax that passed six years ago.
Of course if the good people of Seattle feel we are getting good value and want to pay extra, that is our right. But elected officials again started in with the scaremongering should voters consider saying no — what I referred to on the Metro vote last month as “electioneering by threat: Vote yes or I’ll shoot this puppy.”
Here’s what Bagshaw, who is taking the lead on the parks levy, wrote at Publicola.com in an op-ed titled “Why We Can’t Let the Seattle Parks District Fail.”
“You like your pottery class, your yoga class, and computer classes? Too bad. You won’t get more than you have now, maybe less,” she said, forecasting a bleak future if the parks department must scrape by on its regular $135 million (!) annual operating budget.
This reminds me of that old Seinfeld character the “Soup Nazi.” If you didn’t do what he wanted he’d shout “no soup for you!”
Vote for these taxes, Seattle. Or no yoga for you!
But seriously, the question at the beginning was “how much more can they send at us?” Answer: A lot.
Probably the only way to get them to slow down even a little is to just once do the Soup Nazi right back: No money for you!
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to email@example.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
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