The City of Spokane and Spokane Transit Authority have unanimously decided to move forward with plans for an electric trolleybus in Downtown Spokane. The decision, after more than a year of deliberation and input from a community Sounding Board, eliminated both a most expensive and least expensive option.
Government officials in the City of Spokane are asking for more taxes and broken promises in order to balance the city’s budget.
Mayor Mary Verner announced her budget this week. It would raise taxes and fees by $1.4 million on the citizens of Spokane. More than $400,000 of new revenue would come from red light camera fines, showing the cameras are not for public safety but are a mechanism to collect more money from citizens. Mayor Verner proposes diverting those dollars into the general fund.
Spokane Public School officials sent out 238 layoff notices to school district employees this week. District officials feel they don’t have enough state funding, despite the fact their budget is higher than it has ever been before, and they are educating 3,000 fewer students than they did just 10 years ago.
Among those who have been told they might be terminated:
Late last month, WPC submitted a column to the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane regarding Spokane's Central City Alternatives Analysis project. Spokane Transit Authority CEO Susan Meyer has graciously clarified some of the points made in that column. Her thoughts are bolded below.
An assistant superintendent for Spokane Public Schools made a surprising comment last night when addressing the district’s budget woes. Staci Vesneske, in an interview with KXLY4 News, said “what has happened is, as costs for education have risen, the state funding has not.”
Anyone looking for an example of the transparency games being played in Olympia needs look no further than what is happening today. A Senate Ways and Means hearing is scheduled for 1:30pm today, and at 12:09pm Senate Bill 5754 was added to the agenda. SB 5754 concerns publication of tax data to ensure the transparency of Washington's tax preferences.
The less than 90 minutes notice gives people from Eastern Washington no opportunity to go to Olympia to testify on the bill. In fact, it barely gives them time to phone or email their Senator with questions.
Just when we thought Washington’s east against west mindset was starting to settle down, it has boiled back up. Several Western Washington legislators have introduced bills that would allow the legislature to dissolve counties that don’t generate enough state tax revenue--and most of the targets are in Eastern Washington.
On August 17th, Washington Policy Center environmental director Todd Myers and Eastern Washington office director Chris Cargill, toured the Hanford Nuclear site. This is the area where emergency crews practice their response to any eventuality.
City officials in Spokane, facing a $12 million budget shortfall, are now considering a potpourri of new taxes and fees to fill the gap.
In addition to asking for a 1% hike in property taxes, Mayor Mary Verner is supporting a new vehicle tab fee in Spokane. The $20 fee would boost the cost of vehicle licensing for Spokane residents to $63.75 per year. It was just 11 years ago that Washington voters approved I-695, capping licensing fees at $30 per year. Cities in Washington are allowed to add vehicle licensing fees on top of the state fees.
The Mayor says the city will use the money for street maintenance, despite proclamations from council members that it would be used elsewhere to fill budget holes.
Meantime, Spokane City Councilmember Richard Rush wants to impose another new tax on pay parking lots, to the tune of $75 per space. The money will be passed on to shoppers and workers who use those spaces in downtown Spokane.
If all of these are passed, the average Spokane resident is likely to pay more than $200 a year in additional taxes- just to the city of Spokane. That doesn't include the more than $800 million in new taxes passed by the legislature in Olympia in the last session.
The $12 million shortfall is not because Spokane residents are not generous in paying their taxes. Rather, it is because the city overspends the money it already has in the bank. It needs look no further than union worker contracts. In 2011, the city of Spokane's police union is getting another week and a half of paid vacation and a 4% salary raise. Private sector workers in Spokane are struggling through the recession and not getting extra vacation time and pay increases.
During an economic downtown, government officials have to get creative. Raising taxes and fees on voters to fill a budget gap and increase union contracts is not creative. It will only hurt the local economy in the short and long term.
While cutting back core public services, Spokane County Commissioners voted 2-1 this week to spend another $588,000 taxpayer dollars to make upgrades to Spokane Raceway Park. Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard voted in favor, Commissioner Bonnie Mager voted against.
The Raceway Park was purchased by the county for $4.3 million in a controversial move several years ago. Since then, the county has spent $1.1 million on repairs. Meanwhile, most county departments are still trying to figure out how to cut 12.5% from their budgets. The park was purchased under the assumption it could lead to economic development. It hasn't yet. Even if it eventually does, government does not have a responsibility to own and operate raceway facilities.
Next year, Spokane County Commissioners plan to ask voters to raise property taxes even higher to build a new jail. Money spent on the raceway could and should have been used on essential government services, such as the jail. The purchase and subsequent managing of the raceway is yet another example of the struggles government faces when it gets involved in running a business that can be better-served in private hands.