Sales tax for Walla Walla street work worth considering

But any sales-tax increase must be structured so it can only be used for street work.

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Let's start with the obvious. Walla Walla's streets are lousy and nobody wants to pay for taxes.

Yet, given the sorry state of government finances at the federal, state and local level (perhaps even worse than the city's streets), nothing extra can be done to pave over the ruts and potholes.

Without new revenue, patch jobs on lumpy streets are about all that can be done. Alignment shops might rejoice, but the public isn't happy about it. Now is the time to take action.

But what?

Taxes have been raised in the past to fix roads only to be swallowed up in the city's general fund budget when times got tough - as they always do. In the late 1980s the City Council boosted the sales tax to fund streets. Unfortunately, those elected to the Council allowed the funds to be commingled.

Today city officials are sifting through options to raise money so progress can be made in upgrading streets. Emerging as the best option is boosting the sales tax two-tenths of one percent, which would generate about $1 million targeted specifically for street repairs.

Although the idea of increasing taxes in the current economy isn't pleasant, it looks the most promising for the four options being considered: Sales tax, property tax levy, bond issue or adding $50 to the vehicle license tab fee.

However, we would only support a sales-tax hike if bold steps were taken so every penny collected would be used for street repair - and only street repair.

City Council members seem to heading in that direction.

Last week the Council, at a special meeting, agreed to have city officials put in motion the process for putting a sales-tax hike on the Feb. 14 ballot. If voters approve the increase it would boost the sales tax rate in the city from 8.6 percent to 8.8 percent, of which most (6.5 percent) goes to the state.

This tax, however, will be collected not by the city but a Transportation Benefit District, which would need to be formed.

Support for this proposed tax hinges on the formation of the Transportation Benefit District. If having the taxes collected go through this process is relatively simply and inexpensive, while guaranteeing the money can be used only for street repairs, this could be a proposal worthy of support.

This all should become clear before a vote in February. Establishing a Transportation Benefit District requires providing a list of specific projects to be funded and a public hearing on the district's formation as well as a public hearing on the sales tax proposals.

We are encouraged by the hoops city officials must jump through. And we like the idea of the voters having the final say.

But whether we ultimately support the plan depends on guarantees the money will be spent on streets.

Something has to be done to improve the lousy roads.

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