Tumwater roads tax deserves yes vote

Tumwater voters must answer a simple question on the April 28 special-election ballot. Do they want to raise the local sales tax by a modest 0.2 percent to fix streets and sidewalks, or do they prefer to live with roads already showing signs of wear and tear?

Any tax is worth pausing to think about before accepting, but this one is almost a no-brainer. We strongly recommend a yes vote.

If approved, Proposition 1 will raise the city sales-tax rate to 8.9 cents per dollar, putting it a tick above Olympia’s. But its impact on the average family’s checkbook won’t be much. Most consumers will hardly notice at the cash register.

Mayor Pete Kmet says it adds 2 cents to a $10 purchase or a dollar to a $500 television or computer. Food and prescription drugs are exempt from Washington’s sales taxes.

In a bonus for Tumwater residents, the tax applies to consumers from outside the city limits who add wear and tear to streets when they go shop at big box stores like Costco, Walmart and Home Depot.

Basically, the City Council and Kmet are asking city voters to augment funding for local street repairs that hasn’t kept up with demand. In the last 16 years, a statewide cap on the property tax and repeal of a motor vehicle excise tax have reduced revenue streams that cities and counties used to rely on. That has led to deferred work on streets.

The result is crumbled or cracked asphalt paving around Trosper Road and Capitol Boulevard and in more than a dozen other areas that city engineers say are in great need of work.

The tax plan is expected to raise about $810,000 a year, based upon current economic activity, for repairs to decaying asphalt and sidewalks. As the city of about 19,000 people grows, revenue should grow to about $11.9 million in the course of a decade, which is the life of the tax.

The city now budgets about $155,000 to $165,000 a year for road repairs such as paving. Yet the city estimates it would cost almost $32 million over 10 years to bring its streets into optimum shape.

So far, public opposition is minimal. The person who volunteered to write a statement against Proposition 1 for the voter pamphlet is a recent arrival from Nevada who lives in Olympia. That writer did point out – accurately – that a sales tax hits the poor harder than the rich. But the city really has no other tax options, and it appears to be doing a good job of managing public-safety funds approved by voters a few years ago to hire police and firefighters.

The Legislature gave local governments the authority roughly a half-dozen years ago to either raise car-tab fees up to $20 by a vote of a county or board of commissioners – or sales taxes by up to 0.2 percent by a vote of the people. Olympia chose the car tabs route, which was approved by a city council vote. Lacey is weighing its options to raise revenues for local roads; and Thurston County, which created a transportation benefit district like Tumwater did, is still considering whether to go to the ballot with a sales tax request or adopt a car tab fee.

Friends of Tumwater Streets registered as a campaign committee to promote passage of Proposition 1. Led by former mayor Ralph Osgood, it reported raising $350 so far. There were $100 contributions from Kmet, Osgood and Councilman Neil McClanahan, and $50 from county treasurer Shawn Myers.

Kmet said he doesn’t expect it to spend more than $3,000, and it shouldn’t have to. This measure deserves passage.