Seattle, WA: Monorail aims to crack down on tax evaders

Thursday, October 9, 2003


SEATTLE - The cash-strapped Seattle monorail project is preparing to crack down on people who evade the new monorail tax by registering outside the city. But it's unclear whether the monorail has any real authority to force residents to pay up

The monorail project says it has anecdotal evidence that some residents are registering their cars out of the city to avoid the monorail tax. But now it wants hard evidence.

So Monorail officials are asking the state to turn over names and addresses of suspected tax evaders. They also met Wednesday with car-licensing agents to make sure they report suspected evaders to the state Licensing Department.

The current monorail only runs a short distance - from Seattle Center to Westlake Center downtown.
But with no authority to prosecute these people, the effort may have more bark than bite.

At Ballard Auto Licensing, most customers are law-abiding citizens who just need to renew their car tabs. But once in a while someone comes in with a story that doesn't add up, such as "differences in addresses on their checks versus addresses on their drivers license versus what they're telling us in person," said June Neu, manager of Ballard Auto Licensing.

The clerks are trained to watch out for fraud. But now the Seattle monorail project is asking them to help stop Seattle residents who register their cars to an out-of-city address in order to avoid paying the new monorail tax.

"We need everyone to pay the taxes," said Joel Horn of the Seattle Monorail project. "Not only is it a law, it's fair and I think for all those people that are paying the tax they should be really angry that other people are cheating on the taxes."

There are drivers on both sides of the issue.

"Maybe that's a form of evading the tax, but on the other hand you can totally understand that people are trying to save money, especially in these times," said Yvonne Silva, a Seattle resident.

"I think if they live in the city, then they accept the cost associated with the cost of living in the city," said Doug Pelt, another Seattle resident.

Currently monorail revenues are running about 25 percent below projections. Project director Joel Horn said tax evaders are part of the problem.

"If people are going to cheat on their taxes they've basically cheating on themselves, they're cheating on their neighbors, they're cheating on their kids," he said.

At the Ballard License office, staff said they're willing to cooperate, but only to a certain point.

"We're not to confront customers face-to-face and we're certainly not going to list every name of an address change," said Neu.


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