Are taxes and broken promises really the key to balancing Spokane's budget?

May 13, 2011

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.

When the red light cameras were initially put into place, government officials promised the revenue would only be used for improving traffic safety. Now, it appears that promise may be broken. This is not at all surprising. Elected officials often promise new revenues will be placed into specific funds, only to divert the cash years later. (It should be noted Spokane officials raised car tab fees by $20 this year, promising the money would be used to fund road projects. There are already indications that new money will be diverted to the city’s general fund.)

The latest budget plan also calls for raising parking penalties by $200,000 and increasing the city’s hotel tax by $800,000.

The Mayor says the increases would “not be felt by people in Spokane who obey the law.” Perhaps not directly. But an $800,000 increase in the city’s hotel tax will be felt by business owners – both large and small. A massive increase in that hotel tax would likely push visitors outside of the city limits for their lodging, further hampering businesses that depend on visitors, especially in downtown Spokane.

However disappointing the budget proposal may be, the City Council’s approach in Spokane may be worse. The City Council has reviewed a measure that would increase city property taxes by $2.5 million next year. Property owners in Spokane are already paying more in property taxes to the city. In 2011, they will dish out $35.4 million. That's an increase of nearly $5 million - or 15% - since 2008.

It should be noted that the Mayor's budget did reduce spending from 2010 to 2011. But general fund spending in the City of Spokane since 2007 has ballooned.

  • 2011: $158,638,398
  • 2010: $161,014,200
  • 2009: $155,538,805
  • 2008: $144,740,187
  • 2007: $135,135,855

The city's total spending has surged by almost 45% just in the past six years.

  • 2010: $602,900,000
  • 2009: $618,900,000
  • 2008: $610,800,000
  • 2007: $532,800,000
  • 2006: $508,700,000
  • 2005: $473,500,000
  • 2004: $424,700,000

In the middle of a recession, governments must live within their means, just like everyone else. Unfortunately, neither proposal coming from Spokane government officials does that.