The cure to Tacoma’s financial ills might not be found in Tacoma at all. It might be in Olympia. The City of Destiny has outlined its state legislative agenda for the upcoming session as well as its ongoing wish list from the federal government. Most of the items deal with the flow of money either to the city or ways for businesses to boost expansions and profits. The slate is on the Dec. 18 agenda. “The city supports the use of economic development tools that facilitate urban redevelopment and encourage development, including affordable housing, in transit station areas,” the legislative agenda stated. “This may include value capture tools like tax increment financing, local improvement district legislation and funding of existing tools such as local infrastructure financing.” In plain English, and not government speak, tax increment financing is a way that local cities and states could subsidize private redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects through tax breaks or incentives with the belief that the project will spawn economic development and therefore mean more tax revenue in future years.
Along those lines, the thrust of the city’s legislative agenda follows the belief that the best solutions to taxes and regulations are those made locally. “Local control allows innovation and greater flexibility to match taxes and regulations to a changing local economy,” the agenda continued. “The city will oppose special interest efforts to restrict or otherwise regulate its authority to license and tax, including but not limited to, collection and control of the municipal business and occupation tax.” The city’s lobbying arm will also work to increase the current cap on local licensing tab fees that cities can charge with the creation of Transportation Benefit Districts following last year’s legislation that outlined the package. The current cap is $20 a year, but Tacoma hopes to double that to further chip away at the city’s backlog of city street and transportation needs. The tab fees will bring in about $4 million. The city has a roster of about $800 million in needed street repairs that will take decades to work through. To further fund that work, the city supports fee-based street funding, such as tolls or other fees that would also allow for rebates for low-income drivers. But funding State Route 167 and Interstate 5 improvements will likely include tolls since those routes are critical to trade and shipping operations in the region, even at their high price tags. SR 167 connections alone will take $2 billion.
“A solution that should not be on the table is scaling SR-167 back to anything less than a multi-lane limited access highway,” the agenda stated. That means the city supports SR-167 completion including the use of alternative funding methods that would likely mean changes to the gas tax, ways to gain money from the rise of electric cars or tolling. “We are always talking about doing SR-167 and doing it right,” the city’s Government Relations Officer Randy Lewis said. The big unknown going into the legislative session is how lawmakers plan to meet the requirements outlined in the McCleary decision that found the state was not living up to Washington’s Constitution when it comes to public education. The Constitution states the “paramount” duty of the state is to “make ample provision for the education of all children.” “That is pretty ambiguous,” Lewis said. “It is a major problem for the Legislature to come up with that money.” Whatever the definition the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling means lawmakers have to find more money for public education at a time when budgets are already shrinking. “Any solution to this problem will create winners and losers between the state’s school districts and must still provide the opportunity for local communities to meet unique local needs,” the legislative agenda stated. On the federal agenda are issues concerning finding a solution to the legal issues that arise from the legalization of marijuana in the state while pot is still listed as an illegal drug by federal laws, and the implementation of universal health care programs.