The city is considering an increase in the Vehicle License Fee (car tabs) to help pay for the massive backlog in road maintenance. But the proposal recommended by the citizen’s committee tasked with putting the funds to use also saw it as an opportunity to add more to the underfunded pedestrian and bicycle master plans. The largest chunk of funding would go to transit, according to Publicola.
There are three proposals on the table right now. Jean Godden, who appears to be the only City Council candidate throwing all of her reelection chips in the “I like driving cars” pot, has proposed a $40 VLF increase that would spend three times as much money on general road projects than transit, bicycling and walking projects combined. Her opponents all disagree with her.
The Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC III) has proposed the full $80 increase, with the largest chunk going to transit, followed by general road projects, then pedestrian and bicycle projects. Though it is the smallest chunk, the funding would add an additional $5.4 million. Given the incredible value (and job creation potential) of projects that help biking and walking, this money would do a whole lot of good for public safety and livable communities.
CM Tom Rasmussen has proposed a $60 increase that would match the proportions recommended by CTAC.
Like CM Mike O’Brien, I originally had concerns about the fee being so regressive. If you are struggling to get by, a $100 registration fee ($80 plus the $20 already passed by the council) could be a significant chunk of cash. I would much prefer a motor vehicle excise tax or gas tax to a flat-rate increase.
However, this funding plan is very worthy of support from the council, and O’Brien has backed it. He suggested the council find a way to cut low-income drivers slack, perhaps in the form of a refund. I would love to see this idea pursued.
But even without it, the CTAC plan offers the best opportunity to catch up on our underfunded street repairs while also providing everyone in Seattle with more transportation options that are healthier and more affordable to both the city and individuals. The investments in transit, sidewalks, safe streets and safe bicycle infrastructure give citizens the tools they need to ditch or reduce one of their biggest economic drains: Personal vehicle use.
The VLF could also be an excellent opportunity to fund the ambitious, exciting and community-led neighborhood greenways movement (more exciting news on that soon). However, I was shocked to see that the most vocal greenways booster on the council, Sally Bagshaw, voiced support for something more like Godden’s road-heavy funding ratio, according to Publicola:
Sally Bagshaw added that she would only support a ballot measure that focuses on “maintenance and mobility,” indicating that she was leaning toward Godden’s proposed mix of projects, if not necessarily the $40 fee level.
This is the time for CM Bagshaw to vote to help realize the hard work and excitement of the greenways movement she helped kick start. There is an ever-growing list of neighborhoods organizing around this idea, but now she seems like she may be reluctant to help them move forward. I hope all her talk about supporting safe neighborhood streets was not mere lip service.
Just a couple months ago, Bagshaw expressed her desire to find a dedicated funding source for these projects. Now that the opportunity is in front of her, and I hope she pursues it to help make them a reality. From May:
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said these projects are “perfect for a neighborhood matching grant” from DON, but she does not want funding just to be limited to neighborhood grants.
“It would be great if we could get a dedicated revenue source,” she said.
The $80 is already a compromise plan created by an active citizen group. I would prefer to see more bicycle and pedestrian master plan than what is included, but the proportions are fair and worthy of support. You can voice your support easily using this handy online form from Cascade Bicycle Club.
There will also be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall.