At the Tuesday hearing for Thurston County’s proposed rural car tax for the new Thurston County Transportation Benefit District generated very little love from local citizens. Every phone call, email and resident who testified was in opposition. This isn’t a new experience for the Thurston County Commission, but historically they have been able to drag at least one hardy soul to the hearings who at least pretends to support the proposals. At the Tuesday hearing, no supporter (other than the government staff) was to be found.
We have argued that the proposed tax is illegal for a variety of reasons including the fact that none of the Commissioners actually live in the taxing district, so they won’t be subject to the tax themselves. We pointed out that the charter of this taxing district requires them to obtain outside (not from the Prosecutor’s office) legal counsel, which they failed to do, and which means the legal advice they have received to date is conflicted and probably worthy of a bar complaint against internal legal staff. However, concerned citizens in opposition to the tax also raised a number of other insightful and pertinent questions.
Staff produced a vague map showing some old bridges in Thurston County that were built in the 1920s and needed to be replaced. It was pointed out to them by citizens that the money Thurston County was trying to raise with this tax wasn’t even enough to fix one of the bridges. Others pointed out the $69 million Thurston County already gets for roads. If Thurston County had 90 years to plan maintenance and replacement on bridges, why hadn’t they prioritized this and been budgeting for it long ago? Why was it suddenly an emergency right now? Many people suggested that the Commissioners just postpone the vote until a new commission is in place since the tax itself wouldn’t go into effect until next year anyway.
Other people discussed how they knew people who worked as flaggers for public works in the summer and how when their projects were completed they were told by supervisors to go hide out and just get paid for the extra hours. This one got some harsh looks from Commissioner Romero directed at the Public Works staff. Examples of other Thurston County waste was given. Other people pointed out that Thurston County was attempting to shove through too many last minute taxes like the pocket gopher tax, the crap tax, etc. There were multiple complaints about property tax increases, and the disproportionate impact on low income residents.
Lacey resident Robert Slater, who doesn’t live in the taxing district came to support his friends and fellow veterans who do live in the district. Mr. Slater pointed out to the commissioners
“A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency for us now. Stop some of the vanity projects, and cut them out first before you try to raise more money from us.”
Due, in part to the new cameras installed in the hearing rooms or because some staffer thought it was a better location, the podium was located at an awkward angle to the commissioners dias. This encouraged the speakers to look at the staff who were seated where the podium was pointed. At one point, Commissioner Romero scolded a speaker who was directing his comments at staff instead of her.
A few boy scouts were attending this public hearing as part of acquiring one of their merit badges. They were able to witness a true civics education as the public comment period demonstrated universal opposition and quite a few verbal barbs tossed at the hapless county commissioners and a stone-faced staff. Staff did not appear to enjoy the hearing as much as the citizens venting at the microphone.
No action was taken by the commissioners. Most political observers believe that Commissioner Bud Blake is opposed to this tax. Commissioner Wolfe appears very supportive and determined to shove a lot of ordinances out the door before she retires. Commissioner Sandra Romero, it is suggested, is a key player in the Coronated Candidate for Commissioner Project (or “CCCP” for short), which is the effort to get Jim Cooper elected. Some rural residents are calling the constellation of taxes being rushed through the process the “Cooper Tax Crunch” because they believe Jim Cooper wants some politically painful votes finished and on the books before he becomes commissioner. Jim Cooper, however, was only present at Tuesday night’s hearing in spirit, not in fact.
It is still a good idea for residents of Thurston County to email the County Commissioners here to let them know your opposition to another tax. If you missed this hearing, this county is likely to have a few more on other equally troubling proposals before the year is out – come join us next time. Meanwhile, don’t forget to vote in November. The future ultimately belongs to those of us who show up.
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…
For more background on Thurston County – read these articles: