A Seattle City Council committee has given the green light to the mayor’s proposed $930 million transportation levy.
The Select Committee on Transportation Funding rejected a proposal from Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant to shrink the property tax levy to $600 million and use an employee hours tax and a commercial parking tax to make up much of the difference.
Sawant said that the tax on businesses would be small but still make the city’s tax structure more fair.
"You know, council members often say that we wish that the state had less regressive taxation, and that the state did not tie our hands in our efforts to carry out progressive taxation," Sawant said.
"This is one of those opportunities where we actually have something that is legally within our rights. It is within the city’s purview to carry out an employee hours tax, so I’m not sure why we’re not doing it."
But Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said that small businesses are just now recovering from the recession and would be burdened by even a small tax increase.
And, he said, increasing parking taxes would hurt low-income people.
"I am usually downtown by 6, 6:15 a.m. to go the gym that I belong to. And many of the people who park in the surface parking lot are working men and women. They’re coming to work. They’re painters, they’re cleaning the building, and they need to park off the street to avoid getting a ticket. So to say that working people support this is not borne out by any evidence I’ve seen, nor polls," Rasmussen said.
The committee also delayed consideration of a bill Sawant sponsored that would seek a change at the state level to expand eligibility for property tax exemptions for low-income homeowners.
The mayor's massive transportation levy would replace another from 2006 that expires this year.
It would increase property taxes for the average Seattle homeowner by $135 a year.
The levy would pay for a vast array of improvements to walking and transit routes, bridge repairs and bike lanes.
The council is set to vote June 29 on whether to send the levy to voters this November.