Comment: Put sales tax increase for housing before voters

The County Council is moving too quickly and without a sense for the public’s support of a new tax.

By Nate Nehring / For The Herald

Last week, a proposal was introduced at the Snohomish County Council to increase the countywide sales tax rate by one tenth of 1 percent for the purpose of making housing more affordable. The merit of the underlying proposal should be subject to healthy debate and scrutiny. But what is even more concerning than the tax increase itself is the rushed process being used, which minimizes transparency, deliberation and public input.

Typically, proposals to increase the sales tax rate are placed on the ballot for consideration by the voters. However, the passage of House Bill 1590 earlier this year by the Washington state Legislature provides a carve-out which “eliminates the requirement that the imposition of the tax be subject to the approval of a majority of county or city voters” when the tax revenue is dedicated toward affordable housing. This allows for cities and counties to raise the tax with only a majority vote of a county or city council, avoiding a vote of the people.

Enacting a countywide sales tax increase councilmanically may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right. Elected officials serve at the pleasure of the public; and we ought to remember that the funds in question belong to the taxpayers. If advocates of this proposal believe that this is the most effective way to solve homelessness, then they should make that case to the voters and be open to a robust public process which includes a ballot measure.

In addition to avoiding a public vote, this Snohomish County proposal has been fast-tracked to circumvent the traditional timeline and instead be adopted at the last County Council meeting before Christmas, this coming Wednesday. There is no reason that this process should be rushed. In fact, I would argue that we ought to take more time than usual given the gravity of this decision, which is projected to raise more than $100 million in additional sales tax revenue, collected from taxpayers over the next five years.

Regarding the merit of the underlying proposal, there is no question that homelessness and the associated issues of drug abuse, mental health and crime represent one of the greatest challenges our community faces. What is subject to debate, however, is how to best address this challenge.

The City of Seattle faces the most significant homelessness issue in our state, perhaps in our entire nation. Their “solution” typically involves putting a higher number of taxpayer dollars toward the problem, amounting in hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Despite all of the money thrown at the problem, the situation has undeniably worsened. Why should we look to replicate this failed approach in Snohomish County?

As a letter from the Lynnwood City Council to the County Council opposing this sales tax increase rightly points out, sales tax is a regressive form of taxation. It disproportionally burdens the poor and the working class in our communities. While Snohomish County families continue to feel the negative impacts of high inflation and small businesses struggle to recover from recent economic restrictions, it’s difficult to imagine a worse time to propose increasing the countywide sales tax.

Regardless of varying opinions in support or opposition of the underlying tax increase proposal, I believe a process involving transparency, deliberation and public input must be prioritized. Snohomish County voters should have their say on this critical matter; we can and should ensure that happens by placing this measure on the ballot for a public vote.

Nate Nehring serves on the Snohomish County Council, representing the 1st District. He lives in Arlington.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

Patricia Robles from Cazares Farms hands a bag to a patron at the Everett Farmers Market across from the Everett Station in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Editorial: EBT program a boon for kids’ nutrition this summer

SUN Bucks will make sure kids eat better when they’re not in school for a free or reduced-price meal.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, April 23

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Students make their way through a portion of a secure gate a fence at the front of Lakewood Elementary School on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. Fencing the entire campus is something that would hopefully be upgraded with fund from the levy. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Levies in two north county districts deserve support

Lakewood School District is seeking approval of two levies. Fire District 21 seeks a levy increase.

Don’t penalize those without shelter

Of the approximately 650,000 people that meet Housing and Urban Development’s definition… Continue reading

Fossil fuels burdening us with climate change, plastic waste

I believe that we in the U.S. have little idea of what… Continue reading

Comment: We have bigger worries than TikTok alone

Our media illiteracy is a threat because we don’t understand how social media apps use their users.

toon
Editorial: A policy wonk’s fight for a climate we can live with

An Earth Day conversation with Paul Roberts on climate change, hope and commitment.

Snow dusts the treeline near Heather Lake Trailhead in the area of a disputed logging project on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, outside Verlot, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Move ahead with state forests’ carbon credit sales

A judge clears a state program to set aside forestland and sell carbon credits for climate efforts.

Eco-nomics: What to do for Earth Day? Be a climate hero

Add the good you do as an individual to what others are doing and you will make a difference.

Comment: Setting record strraight on 3 climate activism myths

It’s not about kids throwing soup at artworks. It’s effective messaging on the need for climate action.

People gather in the shade during a community gathering to distribute food and resources in protest of Everett’s expanded “no sit, no lie” ordinance Sunday, May 14, 2023, at Clark Park in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Comment: The crime of homelessness

The Supreme Court hears a case that could allow cities to bar the homeless from sleeping in public.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.