Monorail Taxes

My opinions regarding monorail taxation

by Bob Fleming

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The Controversy

The Seattle Monorail Project approved by voters in November 2003 provided that the Project would be funded by a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) of up to 1.4% of the value of each vehicle registered in Seattle each year at the time of vehicle license tabs renewal.

This tax was opposed by many vehicle owners and could be a factor involved in the eventual cancellation of the Monorail Project.

About the middle of 2003 it was discovered that the actual revenue coming to the Monorail Project from the MVET tax was about 30% less than expected. Investigation disclosed that the databases used to calculate the estimated tax did not truly reflect autombile ownership in Seattle. It is also suspected that some Seattle residents listed addresses outside of Seattle in order to evade the monorail tax.

My Opinion About the MVET Tax

I THINK THE MVET PLACES TOO MUCH BURDEN ON TOO FEW PEOPLE. The MVET means that only vehicle owners would pay the tax, and only those with Seattle home addresses. Those without vehicles or that live outside the Seattle city limits would not pay the tax, even though many of these people would benefit from a monorail.

Who Would Benefit from a Monorail?

The most obvious people to benefit will be those that ride the monorail. Many of these riders are people that are now taking buses. There will be other people that are now driving but will save time and money by switching to the monorail.

There is controversy over how many people will actually stop driving and take the monorail instead. I personally anticipate that it will be a fairly large number. People that drive downtown are subject to delays in traffic and difficulty in finding a parking place. The cost of driving a car combined with parking fees can be quite expensive.

If enough auto drivers switch to using the monorail, there will be a noticeable reduction in traffic congestion, so those people who continue to drive will benefit from the monorail.

Business owners near monorail stations will usually benefit from increased business.

People without cars, or who would rather not commute by car, will pay more for rent to be near a monorail station. Therefore owners of residential rental property near monorail stations will be able to charge higher rent.

Tourists and convention attendees will benefit from a modern rapid transit system. Business that rely on tourism and conventions for income will benefit from the monorail.

Events such as concerts and sporting events that take place in venues along the monorail route will benefit from the monorail. Many people will take the monorail rather than contend with parking and major traffic jams before and after the event. The people that choose to take the monorail rather than drive will improve parking and traffic for those who do drive.

My Proposed Tax Package

Basically, I propose a reduction in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, coupled with a number of various new taxes. Each new tax should be small so that there would be little opposition, but all the taxes added together should be more than sufficient to provide the funding needed for constructing a monorail.

The details:

THE MVET SHOULD BE LESS. I think that the MVET is a good idea, as one of the benefits of the monorail is to help relieve traffic congestion, and therefore will benefit drivers. However the MVET should be much less, perhaps 0.1% to 0.3%, with maybe a cap so that there is a maximum amount for any one vehicle.

THERE SHOULD BE A SMALL INCREASE IN THE SALES TAX. A small increase in the sales tax, for example 0.1%, could go toward the Monorail Project. The sales tax will apply to virtually everybody making purchases in Seattle, including those without vehicles and those commuting from outside the city limits. The tax would amount to one cent for every ten dollars spent, so would probably be accepted as part of the package.

THERE COULD BE A MODEST TAX ON EVENTS THAT WILL BENEFIT FROM THE MONORAIL. Such events would include games, concerts, and other events at Safeco Field, Seahawks Statium, Key Arena, other venues at the Seattle Center, and Downtown.

THERE COULD BE A SMALL TAX ON CONVENTIONS AND TOURISM. Hotels, convention venues, restaurants, tourist attractions, local tours, and car rental companies will all benefit from improved rapid transit and less congestion Downtown.

THERE SHOULD BE A TAX ON PARKING. Those who drive to the Downtown area or to the ball stadiums or Seattle Center, should help pay the cost of improved mass transit that will help relieve congestion and provide an alternative to many people that will find mass transit better than driving. I can think of three forms of taxes on parking — a percentage of parking fees for pay parking, a per stall tax on parking spaces, and an increase in parking meter fees.

The per stall tax would mean that free parking facilities would be taxed, the company owning the facility paying a small tax for each parking space it owns. An option would be a small tax per square foot of parking area. The tax would have the effect of organizations encouraging customers and employees to use mass transit.

THIS SAME SYSTEM OF TAXATION COULD BE THE BASIS FOR GENERAL TRANSIT FUNDING. The monorail is only part of a regional mass transit system. The whole integrated network of transit modes and systems needs funding. The system of taxes I am suggesting could be developed into a system of taxation to fund the various transit agencies and the overall expansion of mass transit in the region, for monorail, buses, ferries, bus rapid transit, commuter trains, and if the people really want light rail, then light rail too.

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©2003 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 9 May 2016

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