LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Why I Can’t Support The Transportation Benefit District Fee”

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re now publishing “Letters to the Editor,” and encourage all Readers to email us their opinions or thoughts (another option of course is to Comment below each story). Below is a letter from longtime Burien-area resident and former city councilmember Stephen Lamphear:]

Dear Editor —

The city of Burien is proposing a new $25 yearly vehicle license fee. Looking at your Voters Pamphlet, you won’t find this proposal connected to the city of Burien. In fact, you have to thumb all the way to page 100 — end of the Voters Pamphlet — to find it. You will not find the word Burien anywhere in the ballot title. Instead, you will find Transportation Benefit District No.1, Proposition No.1 — yet this is strictly a city revenue proposal. A stealth move if ever I saw one.

For two reasons I cannot support this measure.

First of all, the $25 license fee is a regressive tax that, like utility taxes, hits our working families and lower income people the hardest. Since this is a “fee” — not an excise tax — it is not even deductible on federal income taxes.

If these bicycle and sidewalk improvements are necessary at a time of broad personal economic hardship, there are fairer ways to raise the money. The most obvious, fairer way to raise public money is a voter-approved special property tax levy. At least property taxes are deductible on federal income taxes and more directly affect people of means — also, it calls a duck a duck.

Secondly, having the Transit Benefit District boardmembers the same as the city council is merely “left pocket, right pocket”. I might support a TBD if we were also electing independent commissioners, as is being done for the proposed Des Moines Pool District. I’d rather have independent input on special projects and taxes. However, the interlocking board of directors/councilmembers makes this little more than a work-around for the city council to raise taxes without their name on the price tag: “The council didn’t raise taxes, the TBD did it.”

While, I can afford the $25 for this ill-conceived proposal to improve the community, the working family down the street with 4 cars (everyone works) will have to pony up $100 — money they can ill-afford and not deduct on income taxes. Businesses will also pay this fee and pass it on in higher prices.

Yes, we totally need safe streets: safe for children to walk to school, safe for bicycles. This is not the way to do it. Vote NO on Transportation Benefit District No.1, Proposition No.1. When doing the right thing, you also have to do the thing right.

Stephen Lamphear
North Shorewood

(Stephen Lamphear is a longtime Burien resident, former City Councilmember and frequent Contributor to The B-Town Blog. Read more of his writing here.)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Have something you’d like to say? Then email us a Letter to the Editor by clicking here, and pending our review (for libel, etc.), we’ll most likely post it.]

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24 Responses to “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Why I Can’t Support The Transportation Benefit District Fee””
  1. Sarah says:

    This guy is a moron. Any family that can find a way to swing 4 cars can find a way to pony up $100. Maybe if we had some decent sidewalks a family wouldn’t need 4 cars because they could safely get around on foot and bicycle. Steven Lamphear is acting like he is standing up for working families when really he is just a money grubbing Tim Eyman in in disguise.

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    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Thank you, Sarah. I’ll be sure to let my struggling immigrant neighbors know that they should be delivering their pizzas and newspapers by bicycle or on foot instead of their beater cars — so they can be properly PC.

      And Lee, name-calling is much more fun than having a civil exchange — an honest difference of opinion. It’s become everyday common. Particularly when done annoymously.

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    • John says:

      I don’t know. Everywhere I walk there seems to be sidewalks. Ok, not in the older neighborhoods maybe. But the one I live in was in the 40’s and there’s sidewalks going for miles. So I don’t see the big deal.
      As to $100 not being a bid deal. Well I guess to those that can throw away this money without a care I say perhaps you should pay the fee or tax for everyone else.

      Me personally, I vote no for anything that has to do with raising my taxes or forcing me to pay a fee. As the article suggests, this is not a tax but a fee. A fee in my opinion is another word for a penalty. I’m paying because it feels as if I’ve done something wrong.

      Why is it every time a city or other government wants to make improvements, the coinciding word is always raise taxes. Can’t cities figure out how to make their own money without tapping into the people that live there?

      You know, I could feel ok about giving up some money for a tax. But it’s not just a tax for Burien. There are taxes and fees coming from every 10 different directions. Pretty soon, there is no fun money left and we all then have to stay home like zombies because the cities have our money. Yea right, this is good for our families. You know what, sidewalk the crap out of Burien all you want. I don’t think it’ll bring out the people like you think it will. I’ll be voting no just because I can.

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    • Patricia says:

      I am not voting for my vehicle tax to go another $25.00. I think that there has to be another way to get sidewalks etc. Were there townhall meetings on this? I think this is a disgusting tax for a few people. What about the non drivers? Are you taxing them as well and how, pray tell??

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    • Jim says:

      Not only is Sarah rude, uncivil and should apologize, she obviously knows nothing about Mr. Lamphear’s public record on taxes. I’ve watched him for years and I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Lamphear’s politics. But let’s be fair about his record.

      In 1997 (before joining the Burien City Council), Mr. Lamphear raised our taxes by imposing a property assessment for the King Conservation District. If Sarah is a property owner, she will find that on her tax statement as King CD.

      As a Burien Councilmember Mr. Lamphear raised our taxes as follows:
      — He was the linchpin for passage of the current 6% utility tax (gas, electric, phone, cell phone, internet). Those taxes are passed through to customers. In his defense, he did insist on a provision to refund taxes to low income seniors and disabled.
      — He helped craft the city’s business tax. Again in his defense, he insisted on an exemption of the first $100,000 (since he left, the council reduced that exemption so many small businesses now pay tax).
      — He voted to increase the Surface Water Management fee. Again, if Sarah is a property owner she will find that on her tax bill.
      — He voted to impose a franchise fee/tax on garbage service. That fee/tax is passed through to customers.
      — He voted to increase business license fees, which are passed on in higher prices.
      — He voted to impose more of the cost of First Avenue utility undergrounding (postoned) on business rather than residential customers. He lost that battle.
      — He voted against the property tax exemption for buyers of the Town Square condos.

      Mr. Lamphear would say that his votes on taxes helped to keep the city’s finances in good shape through several Tim Eyman initiatives. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with his politics — I do like the Town Square vote.

      Based on his record, Mr. Lamphear is no Tim Eyman. Whether Mr. Lamphear is a moron is more for a libel action to determine. So, what has Sarah done in the community?


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  2. Lee Moyer says:

    Stephen makes some good points talking about issues. Sarah (no last name, of course) resorts to resorts to name calling. But which is the greater insult, calling Stephen a moron or a Tim Eyman?

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  3. Joe says:

    The suggestion of a separate board of directors for the TBD is not a bad one, but it’s not allowed under the state law governing transportation benefit districts, RCW 36.73.020.

    Regarding the expense of paying for the vehicle license fee, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. Car ownership is very expensive, and $25 a year per vehicle–less than a single tank of gas–is chump change when compared with gas, insurance, and maintenance. I think it’s worth it to get safer streets.

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    • John says:

      Ahh, but that single tank of gas can mean the whole difference to a family making it to work for the next two weeks or more. No money for gas, no driving to work, no getting paid, don’t feel like walking on stinking sidewalks that I didn’t want to pay for in the first place.

      I’m not so sure providing sidewalks is going to totally secure our streets for our family. Let’s put that $25 towards better things to secure our neighborhoods from the crud that drives around going 40mph in a 20mph zone. Or to stamping out graffiti which brings in more curd making our neighborhood’s even less secure.

      Build the sidewalks does not mean people will use them. You know, everyday driving home from work I see tons of students getting out of buses and walking down the streets where sidewalks exist now. You know what, they ain’t using the sidewlaks. So how does investing $25 go to making them use them elsewhere?
      Let’s not all dive into jumping on the bandwagon just because it sounds good. Go do your homework first.

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      • Joe says:

        I’m sorry you think that sidewalk are such a bad idea and that I should “do my homework.” I actually did my homework and here’s what I found:

        –60% of people in Burien said that there is a need for more sidewalks and bike lanes in their neighborhood. http://www.burienwa.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=943
        –More walkable neighborhoods mean higher home values, because most people like to walk and bike. http://blog.walkscore.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/WalkingTheWalk_CEOsforCities.pdf

        If you vote no on every tax vote, do you still use the government services that they provide? I think it’s a real shame that so many people think they can get “something for nothing” out of the government. Government services, like roads, fire protection, police protection, parks, and yes, sidewalks, cost money, and sometimes we have to pay to keep them coming. But I don’t see the tax-bashing crowd in a big hurry to forswear all use of government services.

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        • John says:

          I didn’t say sidewalks or bike lanes were bad. I said people don’t use them today! And statistics are always there to prove a point in either direction. My statistics which come from daily witnessing the lack of use of sidewalks says 60% of Burien residents don’t and won’t use them.

          I ride my bike all over town in Burien and the communities where there are sidewalks, the bike riders and walkers I come across are strolling and riding down the middle of the street; Not in the sidewalks. With no one on the sidewalks there doesn’t seem to be that huge of a need then to build more does there? Gosh their wide-open now and not being used.

          Now put a bike lane down the entire length of Ambaum or 1st ave and I might vote for that. But in reality I’m betting that isn’t going to happen.

          And the good thing about government waste, er I mean spending is that regardless if you or I vote for or against whatever the outcome is, we all get to use them.
          Will I use those bike lanes if the get put in. You betcha. Will more people use them throughout Burien? I don’t think so otherwise I’d be seeing them use the ‘unused’ sidewalks today.

          Let’s go back to all those kids walking around after school in the streets. They don’t use the sidewalks that are there now. How are you going to get them to use wider one’s? Seems we’re already educating them so that doesn’t work.

          I say if we’re going to build areas for bike’s and walking, let’s put the money towards enhancing or enlarging bike and walk trails throughout the area and not to a neighborhood that just wants to perk their bottom line.

          Now tell me we want to pass a tax to enhance our communities with sidewalks to increase the value of property values, then I can coherently understand this and make an educated vote. But to throw in artifacts of guilt to the citizens about family and kids not being safe and that’s why we need sidewalks, that is plain hogwash.

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        • Stephen Lamphear says:

          That’s actually just 60% of the very few people who replied to a survey. How many actually had an opportunity to do a survey? I didn’t. It’s largely a meaningless statistic.

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  4. Brooks Stanfield says:

    Anecdotal depictions about the impacts of a policy on a single neighbor or family present easily digestible narratives. “Joe the Plumber” comes to mind. The trouble is focusing on this neighbor or that plumber often leads us to focus too much on the archetype and too little on the overall impacts of a measure on societal as whole.

    I appreciate Stephen’s understanding of the different approach to financing these kinds of projects, but his use of poor immigrant populations to support his position is troubling and simply unfounded. Public health agencies all over the country are now spending significant resources combatting preventable diseases (i.e. heart disease and diabetes) that are orders of magnitude more prevalent in poor minority communities. And what these agencies are pointing to as a main contributing factor…. the physical environment. Housing, safe walkable streets, access to parks, and fresh foods collectively are probably the #1 growing priority for public health professionals in combatting preventable disease in underserved or disadvantaged populations (besides Swine Flu this year).

    If we are really concerned about the welfare of these kinds of folks it would seem we would need to look to science to evaluate the merits of this kind of investment on a much broader scale than just one family. I deeply share Stephen’s concerns for poor minority populations , but for me they only strengthen the argument for voting yes.

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    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Hey Brooke,

      I did not say I was opposed to pedestrian or bicycle improvements. Indeed, I voted for the plan when I was on the council. I support these improvement; just not this way.

      I tried to be very clear that I might support this endeavor if the funding mechanism were a property tax rather than a fee.

      If it were a property tax, I would pay more for this endeavor than my neighbors; just as I pay more in taxes now. The same amount of money would be collected: only more of it from those of us who can afford it.

      Those who are most able to pay to support public services should do so. That was my philosphy before the council, on the council, and continues to be.

      It is the nature of the funding mechanism that compells me to oppose this ballot measure. Make it fair and I’m on board.


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      • Brooks Stanfield says:

        I appreciate the clarification Stephen. The need is great as there is a LOOOOONG list of projects to which we’ll need to attach funding sources and policies. I’m guessing it’s not all going to come from a single source. Perhaps after the election a discussion about financing mechanisms for future projects.

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        • Stephen Lamphear says:

          Brooks —

          Thank you. Yes, a discussion of fair and appropriate funding mechanisms for needed community improvements is a good idea — even to involving someone as radical and knowledgeable as me.

          The city of Seattle has already been through a number of lawsuits rejecting poorly crafted funding mechanisms: a fire hydrant charge on city water bills, a street utility tax, to name the most recent. Mostly, the courts found the fee/tax unrelated to the projects.

          We can do a better job of this, but only if we’re willing to include everyone, even unpopular people, in the conversation.


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  5. leadfoot says:

    I think that bicycles should be required to be licensed and those funds used for bike lanes and sidewalks.

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  6. Sarah says:

    Stephen, we’re talking about $25 – the price of half a tank of gas. Let’s think about that money at work in our community and what it could mean to working families.

    ~ Think of a place where young people could safely walk or bike to school rather than being driven by a parent.
    ~ Imagine a community where one could pick up a carton of milk or return a library book without having to jump in the car.
    ~ What if someone could safely walk to the transit center rather than driving to the park and ride.
    ~ A local gym membership runs about $100 per month. Think about a community where families can walk, jog and bike to the local public pools and tennis courts.

    Health benefits aside, the money savings outlined above in gas alone would more than offset the $25 fee. I called your argument moronic because it’s weak and transparent. This isn’t about working families. This is about YOU not wanting to shell out the cash. I could respect your argument if you were honest but you choose hide behind hypothetical families. I would guess that these very families would like the ability to express their beliefs with their own votes and don’t appreciate being spoken for. I bet that some of the working families who you claim to speak for and who can’t begin to afford 4 cars would love the ability to safely navigate their city on foot.

    Think about how great it would be, during our very long dark winter days, to talk your dog for a walk after getting home from work in the evening. How liberating would it be to not have to require your child to come home from playing down the street with a friend the minute the sun goes down (4:30 p.m. in the winter) because they don’t have to walk in a gravel ditch? Imagine going for a jog around the neighborhood and not having to worry about a car screeching around the corner. This is about quality of life!

    Truly great cities and towns are pedestrian friendly. Isn’t that what we want Burien to be? We’ve made such incredible progress… why stop now? It is a small amount of money for such a tremendous gain. This is a no brainer!

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    • Stephen Lamphear says:


      Belittling me does not increase the stature of your argument. I am positive it is beyond your abilities to assign motivation to me. Not everyone is a conspirator.

      If this were all about me, why would I have voted FOR utility taxes, for business taxes when I was on the city council? I pay all of those.

      You don’t know me and I don’t know you. A civil disagreement is fine, but name calling and belittling say far more about you than me. Let’s engage on a civil level.


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      • Sarah says:

        Stephen, I’m not belittling you. I’m sure you’re a lovely person. I’m calling you out for a weak argument. There’s a difference. Don’t state an opinion if you can’t take people disagreeing with you.

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        • Stephen Lamphear says:

          Sarah (whoever you are)

          You misread my comments entirely. Not once did I say I am opposed to sidewalks and bike routes — I like ’em both and it’s not about whether I actually use them. While on the council, I voted for more sidewalks (we did some during my 8 years) and bike routes (the new route on 156th is one). I have walked the 3 miles to/from my home to downtown Burien and I have biked to Westwood Village.

          I clearly said I don’t like the funding mechanism. If it were a property tax, I would pay more than any of my neighbors. That would be fine with me — it would be fairer and I could deduct it from my federal tax. Change the funding mechanism then we’ll talk.

          I’ve spent most of my life in public service (was was there in 1973 to help create the Landord-Tenant law), so I am comfortable with disagreement — I’m usually the one to generate it. You called me a moron — not my argument.

          Long time ago, I learned it is always wrong to say “you’re stupid” or “your argument is stupid”. Neither mean anything except the writer/speaker’s rudeness.


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  7. David says:

    Read all the posts. I agree with Joe. Burien needs to make a start in improving the poor walking and lack of bicycle lanes. Making an effort to bike and not drive in Burien is risky business.

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  8. Stephen Lamphear says:

    PS — Jack Block’s political ad appears just below my editorial. Let it be clearly known that I DO NOT support Block’s return to city council in any way at any time.

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  9. Rainycity says:

    Why should I pay $25.00 per vehicle for sidewalks I don`t use?
    If a person has to jump into thier car to pick up milk or return a library book
    because they “just don`t feel safe walking along the side of the road”?,
    Well, tell you what, that same person would still drive and sidewalks wouldn`t make a difference. And someone feels the need to have thier kids come in just after dark because theres no sidewalks?, I`m sure there`s more to it than just being afraid of your kid walking in a gravel ditch, jeez, kids love doing that anyways.
    You want to improve the quality of life?? Stop wanting to always add a fee for this or add a fee for that so that my family can have a little money for some fun once in a while.
    If ALL these folks want sidewalks, put out a collection can.

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  10. dluxe says:

    I have no problem paying, what amounts to a fairly insignificant amount of money, specially for any improvement that encourages people to use a cars less, but here’s what concerns me; What is this really going to cost? When I go to a store and see the price on an item, I don’t want the price to be higher when I go through the check out. The Voter’s pamphlet, page 109, Statement For says the fee is for two years, yet the Explanatory Statement says; “The Vehicle fee…will terminate when the financing is completed and paid.” So which is it?! The Statement Against even says; “ Fees may not end in two years.” This is a problem for me, a big problem, because I hate being lied to when it comes to matters of money , but I would also very much like to vote yes for this Prop. Stephen Lamphear is obviously a seasoned veteran when it comes to matters of this sort and I would love to hear his take on this, as well any other qualified and informed individuals. What does the actual ordinance say? Is there ambiguity regarding the funding that accounts for two divergent facts being interpreted as true? Tara Grumm and Chestine Edgar are you listening? Thanks!

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