Northwest NEWS

February 18, 2002

Editorial

Money for roads requires gas tax increase

Despite taxpayers' anti-tax sentiments, the Washington state Legislature is replete with bills to enable counties to increase their taxing sources.
   One bill would authorize counties to increase their conservation tax levy against all taxable property by 92 percent. The conservation tax in King County is largely used for buying and/or back-to-naturing fish habitat. Of course that's on top of the recently-increased surface water management fee that went from $85 to $102 per tax parcel, and a $5/per parcel conservation district charge.
   Then there's the significant cost to those wishing permits to build, remodel, clear trees, grade driveways, etc. As a development extraction in exchange for the desired permit, sensitive areas and their non-sensitive buffers are removed from the landowner's use and usually recorded against the property title. That's not the only government price for development. King County charges $132 per hour to process permits, including charging that amount for travel and office time, as well as the on-site time to determine precisely what must be locked up/restored as part of the permit conditions.
   Another bill would authorize counties to add an additional excise tax on the sale of all real estate to provide affordable housing. At the stated one-half percent of the sales price, the counties would reap $1,500 on the sale of a $300,000 home, the escalated value of which is greatly due to government regulations that decrease land supply and raise development costs. So individual buyers and sellers of real estate end up subsidizing low and moderate income housing, not the public at large.
   And then there's the bill to enable counties to collect utilities taxes, which are perpetual taxes that never have to be renewed. King County Executive Ron Sims says they're necessary "to provide for adults and their children who would like to play on parks and playfields. . ." (Ha! In our section of King County nearly every time the county buys active-recreation land it turns out to be environmentally suitable only for open space with perhaps some pedestrians allowed, preferably those scientific types who will inventory the birds and plants.)
   The costs of preserving and restoring the environment, if not curtailed, will eventually break us. And for what? The American Fisheries Society has been quoted as saying that habitat restoration is an extremely expensive and long-term and relatively unproved procedure. Certainly habitat restoration is not the reason for this year's record fish returns, which scientists have credited to fish-harvest controls and good ocean conditions.
   Yet the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team's 2001-2003 summary of proposed environmental expenditures by state agencies for preserving and restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem, allocates the largest funding amount to the Washington state Department of Transportation. Over $46 million is to be allocated to the transportation department for environmental work when the dollars for building the roads themselves can't be found without a large gas tax increase.
   Maxine Keesling, Woodinville