Proposition 1 is set to face voters in the fall and a series of informational meetings are scheduled across the city to educate voters on the issues.
The proposition, if approved by Tacoma voters, would add a 2 percent tax on gross earnings by utility companies within Tacoma. The money would aid efforts to chip away at the city’s backlog of street, bridge and sidewalk repairs. The measure was slated for the Nov. 5 election by a unanimous vote of Tacoma City Council in late July.
The tax on gross earnings would bring in about $11 million a year. About $8 million would come from power companies, while another $1.75 million would come from phone and cell providers and another $1.25 million from natural gas providers if the measure passes. While not directly a tax on end customers, the companies are likely to simply add the 2 percent tax to their billing statements along with the current 6 percent tax already being collected. That tax brings in $40 million a year for general fund projects and city operations. The added tax would be earmarked for road work instead of simply funneled to the general fund alongside the current 6 percent utilities tax. City staffers are now working on plans to provide opportunities for citizens to learn more about the ballot measure, including a series of community meetings before the election.
“I will probably be very busy for the next two and a half months,” City Manager T.C. Broadnax said. “I am looking for clones of myself.”
The meetings will be much like the city’s budget workshops last year. Almost a dozen information sessions at various locations across the city have been planned so far. The sessions are designed to provide residents with information about the ballot measure. In addition to these meetings, city officials are available to make presentations to interested community groups.
“We are very open and transparent about the finances of the city,” City Council member Ryan Mello said during a study session on the issue.
While the issue of road repairs ranked high on citizen surveys, the plan has its opponents. The Stop Higher Utility Taxes group, led by Simpson Tacoma Kraft’s lobbyist, filed an injunction in Pierce County Superior Court challenging the measure on the grounds that the ballot’s wording doesn’t specifically articulate that the tax on earnings will essentially mean higher rates for customers. The added tax would reportedly cost Simpson $500,000 a year. Residential power customers could see their bills jump by about $5 per month if the tax is simply passed through.
Another issue is that the ballot measure would be decided by city residents while the tax would be collected on customers who are outside the city limits of Tacoma. Tacoma Power spans much of Lakewood, University Place, Steilacoom, unincorporated parts of Pierce County and Joint Base Lewis McChord, for example.
All sessions will begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Aug. 26: Lincoln High School, 701 S. 37th St.
Sept. 4: Wheelock Library, 3722 N. 26th St.
Sept. 11: Fern Hill Library, 765 S. 84th St.
Sept. 16: Meeker Middle School, 4402 Nassau Ave. N.E.
Sept. 23: Truman Middle School, 5801 N. 35th St.
Oct. 2: Tacoma Main Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S.
Oct. 9: Moore Library, 215 S. 56th St.
Oct. 10: Jason Lee Middle School, 602 N. Sprague Ave.
Oct. 14: Gray Middle School, 6229 S. Tyler St.
Oct. 30: Snake Lake Nature Center, 1919 S. Tyler St.