YES: Buses vital to many for jobs and education
Independence, jobs and access to vital services - those are just a few examples of what Pierce Transit means to tens of thousands of our neighbors throughout Pierce County.
Proposition 1 will ensure there is funding to maintain local bus service for seniors and those with no other transportation options, students, commuters and people with disabilities. The cost is three more pennies on a $10 purchase.
As a member of the business community and a caretaker of a person with a disability, we fear the impacts of rejecting Proposition 1 will be devastating for Tacoma and Pierce County, to Pierce Transit riders and non-riders alike.
Responding to the recession, Pierce Transit cut management, increased fares, reduced service by 43 percent and took other actions that have saved $111 million over four years. Recently the agency's operators and other staff agreed to no wage increases and to redesign benefits over a three-year contract to save more money.
Despite these cuts and efficiencies, if Proposition 1 is rejected, Pierce Transit will have to cut an additional 53 percent of current service. There would be no regular bus service or specialized bus service for people with disabilities on weekends or past 7 on weeknights. Commuter services for workers would be significantly cut on weekdays.
Thousands of hard-working people who want to contribute to our economy will have no transportation. They will be stuck without access to jobs. They won't be the consumers our businesses desperately need to help spur a lasting recovery. Many will become more reliant on our social service safety net that is already stretched too thin.
Many area employers are required to meet Commute Trip Reduction standards that are meant to get workers to their jobs and help alleviate road congestion (the Puget Sound area recently ranked fourth worst nationally). The failure of Proposition 1 would leave these employers with few options, and even worse it dumps more cars into an already overloaded local street and highway system.
Again, the cost to prevent this and keep traffic manageable is just three more pennies on a $10 purchase.
Thousands of local seniors and people with disabilities are eligible for specialized transportation provided by Pierce Transit - called SHUTTLE - that connects them to doctor's appointments and jobs. SHUTTLE allows them to live independent, productive lives. For many of these individuals, Pierce Transit's SHUTTLE is literally a lifeline to vital services, like kidney dialysis. For some, the only alternative would be more costly and disruptive nursing home or emergency room care - at a greater cost to taxpayers and struggling families.
Every academic year, Pierce Transit provides more than 500,000 trips to and from schools, safely connecting thousands of our young people to their education. During snowstorms and inclement weather, Pierce Transit buses still run, getting people safely to jobs.
Local officials rely on Pierce Transit to assist in evacuations and sheltering during emergencies. The failure of Proposition 1 would leave students stranded and limit our first responders' ability to move residents in critical situations.
Pierce Transit is part of our entire transportation system. If we don't stand up and support Proposition 1, we will lose more than some bus trips. Many in our community will lose out on productive lives.
Jonah Jensen is an associate at BLRB Architects, a firm with employees and business partners who utilize public transportation daily. John McCluskey is a retired Tacoma resident and is the primary caregiver to his partner of 53 years, Rudy, who relies solely on Pierce Transit Paratransit services for mobility and access to live an independent life.
NO: Measure would burden the poor and harm Tacoma's economy
Tacomans have been extremely generous in the last few years, paying an ever-increasing sales tax rate for new or increased government services. For the first time in Tacoma history, Tacoma's sales tax rate has recently matched the stratospheric tax rate of Seattle itself of 9.5 percent.
Yet in November, with Proposition 1, Pierce Transit will ask Tacomans to pay a record combined sales tax rate of 9.8 percent, an increase of 0.3 percent. If Proposition 1 passes, Tacomans would be forced to pay the highest sales tax rate of any of the 200-plus cities in Washington state for the first time in Tacoma's history.
Rather than proposing an increase with a sunset provision, Pierce Transit is seeking a permanent increase, even if and when the economy improves.
Collecting revenue though high sales taxes is widely considered unjust as it places the tax burden disproportionately on lower-income individuals.
A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy - affiliated with the liberal-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice - found that the lower 20 percent of Washingtonian earners pay 17.5 percent of their income in taxes each year, while the wealthiest 1 percent pay a mere 3.3 percent.
A 2010 Stranger article concluded that Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the country. Thus, if Tacoma adopts a 9.8 sales tax rate, our city will arguably become the most regressive and unfairly taxed city in the United States.
Attempting to force Tacoma merchants to impose the highest sales tax rate in Washington could also have extremely harmful effects Tacoma's economy, on the ability of small businesses to survive and exacerbate the City of Tacoma's budget shortfall.
A 2009 study by DePaul University's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that communities near a border, where higher sales tax rates existed, suffered significant losses in retail which could be attributed partially to a shift in consumer buying because of varying sales tax rates.
Given that Tacoma is surrounded by lower-taxed regions, consumers could easily avoid paying Tacoma's record sales tax by shifting their spending habits by just a few miles away from Tacoma, especially for higher-ticket items such as cars and appliances.
Alarmingly, Proposition 1 is being proposed before any study or analysis has been conducted to analyze the potential harm to Tacoma's economy from spiking the sales tax rate.
Tacoma cannot simply ignore other cities; we must compete with them. Should there be any significant shift in consumer spending out of Tacoma through imposing the highest tax rate in the state, the City of Tacoma could experience an even great future budget shortfall requiring an even larger layoff of fire and police personnel than is currently anticipated.
The City of Tacoma wisely recognized that the B&O tax was driving businesses outside of the city and lowered the rate for small businesses. It would be shortsighted to make the same mistake with the sales tax rate.
Furthermore, Tacoma would shortly be known as the "most highly taxed city in Washington state" should the record sales tax rate be imposed. Thus, consumers may likely be dissuaded from shopping and doing business in Tacoma for the reputation alone, in addition to the actual real effects. Tacoma's past failure to take into consideration how it is perceived has been devastating for the city.
Although well-intentioned, Proposition 1 unfairly targets those it purports to help and threatens Tacoma's economy and the city's budget itself.
Erik Bjornson is an attorney in downtown Tacoma and often writes on urban issues.