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Seattle Tax: McGinn proposes higher parking taxes to fund tunnel-related projects

Mayor Mike McGinn on Tuesday proposed increasing the commercial parking tax and creating a new taxing district to help pay for Seattle's $1 billion commitment to projects related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement.

As part of his funding plan, McGinn also included his previously announced wish for a bond levy to replace the central seawall. McGinn's proposals must now be considered by the City Council.

"We'll see where the discussion goes," McGinn said during a briefing with reporters.

Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said he learned about the mayor's plan after McGinn spoke with reporters. He said he was happy McGinn submitted the comprehensive proposal.

"We'll go over it very carefully and see whether we support this plan or see whether we want to change," Rasmussen said. "The only thing I have is a power point and a press release, this is the first that he's shared it with anyone."

McGinn and the council have been at odds over the $4.2 billion tunnel project. McGinn has been skeptical about the tunnel, and City Councilmembers have complained he's needlessly delaying the process.

McGinn said Seattle still needs to come up with $425 million to satisfy its tunnel commitments. The bulk of that needed funding - $235 million - is for the central seawall.

McGinn says his seawall bond idea, a 30-year levy of .12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, would bring in $15 million annually. It would cost the average household $50 a year.

Rasmussen agreed that the seawall replacement - something that has to be completed independent of the viaduct replacement - should be one of the first items the city decides how to pay for.

McGinn also proposed increasing the current 10 percent tax on commercial parking lots by 2.5 percent to help pay for the Mercer Corridor West improvements. That tax would raise $5 million a year, he said.

And the mayor wants to create a new local improvement district by 2016 to pay for waterfront and surface street improvements. McGinn is hopeful the new taxing district could bring in as much as $225 million.

McGinn said the Council would need to act in July to put the seawall bond levy on the November ballot. The Council has been cool to the idea of a levy. The mayor said he'll send his parking tax increase proposal to the Council in September as part of his budget proposal for next year.

Bids for the tunnel project are due in October. Construction wouldn't begin until after the final Environmental Impact Statement is completed in July 2011. The state, which is contributing $2.4 billion to the replacement of the state highway, hopes the tunnel would be completed by 2016.

The state has committed to paying for the tunnel replacement, but Seattle has to come up with money for related projects, like replacing the seawall and upgrading the Mercer Corridor.

McGinn, who campaigned against the tunnel, objects to a provision in the state authorizing legislation that requires Seattle to pay cost overruns for the tunnel.

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