Spokane: County endorses transit tax issue despite objections 

Adam Lynn
Staff writer - Spokesman-Review
August 16, 2002-

The Spokane Transit Authority is a bloated bureaucracy that doesn't deserve one extra dime of tax money until it cleans up its act.

That's the message a new political action committee will be pushing over the next few weeks as it tries to persuade Spokane County voters to oppose a proposed transit tax increase.

The group, called Citizens for Responsible Transit, kicked off its campaign Tuesday by asking county commissioners to take no formal position on Proposition 1, which would raise the sales tax by three-tenths of 1 percent throughout the STA service area.

Group member Joel Crosby, a former Spokane city councilman, told commissioners the STA's budget should be scoured for savings before the agency asks taxpayers for a bailout.

"This, we feel, has some major flaws in it," Crosby said. "We want you to go back and really evaluate the transit system."

The commission voted to endorse the tax proposal nonetheless.

Money raised by the tax would be used to replace funding STA lost when the state Legislature did away with the motor vehicle excise tax in response to Initiative 695, passed by voters in 1999.

The agency relied on vehicle tax money for nearly 40 percent of its annual budget, or about $14 million per year.

STA leaders say they will have to dramatically cut services if the tax increase is not passed Sept. 17.

Members of Citizens for Responsible Transit said Tuesday that STA has shown itself incapable of running an efficient operation.

Many buses travel with only a few passengers on board, and the downtown bus Plaza is a symbol of excess, said Dave Hamer, longtime Spokane clothier and member of the anti-transit tax group.

"The transit system shouldn't be a giant cab company," Hamer said.

Dave Levitch, who worked for the local bus service when it was still run by the city, also is a member of Citizens for Responsible Transit.

Levitch told commissioners that STA management hasn't done enough to cut costs, look for efficiencies or raise revenue from other sources.

He suggested cutting the subsidy for disabled riders as one way of raising cash.

"Just because someone's disabled doesn't mean they don't have any money," Levitch said.

Crosby said the group was particularly upset that the proposed tax increase has no expiration date. "This is like a blank check," he said.

In addition, there should be higher priorities in the community than funding transit, Crosby said, like paying for street repairs.

Commissioners John Roskelley and Kate McCaslin, both of whom sit on the STA board of directors, were unmoved.

Roskelley said the STA board has taken a hard look at the agency's budget in the last few years, cutting service by 20 percent and raising fares.

McCaslin agreed and pointed out that the agency has no other places to turn for money. Plus, many poor people have no choice but to use public transportation, she said.

"Am I thrilled with this proposal? No, I'm not," McCaslin said. "But at the end of the day, I'm going to support it. For those who are most vulnerable in our society, this is their only means of getting from anywhere to anywhere."

She and Roskelley then voted to endorse Proposition 1, which also has the backing of the Spokane City Council and a political action committee called Citizens for Public Transportation.

County Commissioner Phil Harris abstained from Tuesday's vote. Harris has argued that commissioners shouldn't take sides in elections, a stance normally supported by McCaslin.

"Sometimes, there are compelling reasons when we have to speak up," she said Tuesday.


Adam Lynn can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or by e-mail at adaml@spokesman.com.

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