Times editorial board, this is no time to be stuck in the past

The Seattle Times published an editorial yesterday complaining about the Mayor McGinn’s recent proposal to increase the commercial parking tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for necessary street repairs, like filling potholes. This is a typical car-centric knee-jerk reaction to a plan that is less like a tax increase and more like a decrease in car parking subsidy.

The Times’ argument is that a recession is no time to raise taxes: “Quick, somebody call the mayor and remind him this is a nasty recession and people need more money in their pockets to boost the recovery.”

However, this argument is dependent on picking some things to call a tax while ignoring other costs. For example, off-street parking is heavily subsidized. But the Times does not seem to want to dive so deep into this issue as to consider that those who do not drive are paying into the cost of parking downtown. Publicola put it well:

According to Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, the total subsidy for off-street parking alone was between $127 and $374 billion in 2002. We all pay for that parking, whether we drive or not, in the form of higher rents, more expensive dining and entertainment, and higher home-ownership costs.

Also, can we all agree that keeping up with street repairs like filling potholes and making sure painted lines are not worn away are good for everyone? Like the mayor said, the streets are used by cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians. Allowing the repair backlog to fill up and neglecting them would be a disservice to every mode of transportation.

Therefore, the mayor is proposing a parking tax that would remove just one portion of a subsidy that only helps car drivers in order to pay for roads that those drivers, and others, use. That seems fair to me.

But the editorial also attacks attempts to just barely fund a small and still entirely insufficient portion of the bike and pedestrian master plans as superfluous eccentricities: “The mayor is a bike enthusiast. Well, he cannot do everything he wants for his bike supporters right now. In this climate, his job is to manage basics, including predictable pothole filling.”

Let’s get this straight: Bicycle riders and pedestrians pay transportation taxes, too! By “basics,” the editorial board meant to say “cars.” The roads are not just for cars, and projects that happen to be good for bikes and peds are not luxuries and excesses. The Alaskan Way tunnel, however, is a spectacular excess that only benefits cars (well, with a $7 round trip toll, it really benefits no one). It’s funny that the Times board does support that project.

At current spending rates, it would take 80 years to complete just 20 percent of the pedestrian master plan. The bike plan, which really needs $30 million a year, is currently only receiving $3 million. The mayor’s plan would only slightly increase this funding while also keeping SDOT on track to maintain our city’s streets (which, if haven’t noticed, are in poor shape already).

In times when money is tight, we need ideas that challenge the funding system that got us into this mess. We do not need to curl up in a system where parking costs are considered “taxes” on city residents, despite the fact that many city residents do not drive, yet shoulder the costs of car parking.

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1 Response to Times editorial board, this is no time to be stuck in the past

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