Editorial: Reject transit tax for now

There are plenty of reasons to support Island Transit tax, which provides an invaluable service to the community. But there’s good reason not to support the Island Transit’s request of a three-tenths of 1 percent increase in sales tax at this time, though it has little to do with the ailing economy.

The tax proposal was not adequately aired publicly before it was sent to the ballot. The Island Transit board discussed the matter, continued its meeting so a decision could be rendered on a Monday morning, and then announced it to the public. No hearings, no open invitation for public input, just a fait accompli. In fact, the minutes of the board meeting had to be changed to make it look like open meetings rules were followed.

Members of the public have a right to offer their two cents and they just might have some good ideas. Advertising on the buses isn’t such a bad concept. There may be businesses that are willing to pay a substantial amount of money to “sponsor” buses. The advertising could be tasteful, even artistic. It could get local businesses more involved in the transit system. Transit managers should at least listen sympathetically to those who say fares should be charged to bus riders, even if it really doesn’t make financial sense. To fare supporters, it’s a matter of principle and they should be treated with respect.

Transit managers could have planned better for this downturn, and that a sharp decline in sales tax revenue should not have caught them so flat-footed. Didn’t they notice when Island County lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax?

The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, led by its board of directors, recommended a “no” vote on the proposal based on a survey of members. They had some good points. There remained unanswered questions: Why is the proposed increase permanent if the problem is (hopefully) temporary? Why is the increase in excess of the shortfall?

The economic arguments against the proposal, however, fall short. It seems doubtful that such a small increase in sales tax would really deter people from shopping in the county. It’s 3 cents for every $10, after all. If the tax increase doesn’t pass, as many as 39 drivers could be out of a job. That would mean less employed people spending money at local businesses.

If the proposal doesn’t pass in the Aug. 18 primary, Island Transit should have a series of very public meetings, explore all options for revenue and come back to voters with a well-aired proposal soon.

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