March 5, 2013

By Staff

Proposed car taxes aren’t the way

There is a need for more funding for the county’s road network. Potholes need to be filled, lanes need to be restriped, new facilities need to be constructed, and transit — meaning bus routes and rail lines — need to be expanded and maintained.

A bill working its way through the Legislature is not the answer. House Bill 1959 would allow the county to impose a tax of up to 1.5 percent of the value of a vehicle. It could be imposed either by a vote of the County Council or through a countywide vote. The majority of the money, 60 percent, would go to capital improvements for transit. The remaining 40 percent would be distributed to the county and the cities for roads.

If the tax is adopted, the owner of a new car would have to pay the 1.5 percent tax based on 85 percent of the car’s suggested sales price. For a $40,000 car, that means $510 per year. The number would drop as the car depreciates.

There are so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to start.

The biggest problem: It’s too much money. Incomes have stagnated, and while residents need the services, they can’t afford that kind of annual fee.

Basing it on the value of the vehicle has problems as well. It assumes that all cars of a certain model and age have the same value — never mind how many miles one might have, or how many accidents another might have been in.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the people voted against car tab fees.

Still, transportation departments need the money. An option that could be fairer would be to base the fee on the vehicle’s weight. Then, heavier cars, which put more strain on roads and bridges, pay a greater share of the cost of maintaining them.

Whatever calculation is used, the fees should top off at about $150 per year. That’s still a lot of money for people on a budget, but it’s a lot more manageable.

The county needs money to maintain transit and roads, but this idea hits the wallet too hard.


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