Opinion

Parking, and other island social ills

Smoking.

Drinking.

Parking.

Should we add the latter – and such associated blights

as commuter-hour traffic, and the hordes of visigoths who stream onto the island from across the bridge every day – to the list of social ills subject to higher taxation by various levels of government?

We refer (with tongue somewhat in cheek) to a recent proposal by City Councilman Bob Scales to double the tax rate on commercial parking ventures around the ferry terminal to 24 percent. The increase, we’re given to understand, would have the practical effect of hiking the daily parking rate on both private lots and the municipal stalls to $10. Scales proposes that the new revenues be dedicated to such transportation needs as roadwork and bicycle/pedestrian improvements, in equal measure.

While declining to take the editor’s bait and concede that

a parking fee increase is the island’s version of a “vice tax” on automobile use – we tried – Scales does admit that the hike might serve to promote alternative forms of transportation, hereabouts seen as a desirable social effect. Besides, he argues, there’s no reason to believe that demand for ferry parking will actually go down, whatever the price; the city may make more money, but parking lot vendors will get theirs too.

Whether the handful of private players owning lots around the ferry terminal agree, we’ll soon find out. A public hearing is slated, and the last time the

city tried a significant restructuring of terminal parking, the next mayoral election was thrown for quite a loop.

Are commercial parking vendors being unfairly singled out among other businesses to fatten the city’s coffers? Yes and no. Readers will be shocked – shocked! – to learn that eccentricities exist in the tax codes, by which municipalities can in fact tax parking differently than other commercial outfits. This is also true of lodging, on which the city levies an excise tax, and any business that charges an admission. Utilities also are subject to excise taxes, which explains (although not completely) the monthly outrage that is your cable bill. For whatever reason, the state says these ventures can be treated differently than those subject to the usual Business and Occupation tax, opening the door for local government to wring them a little tighter when more money is needed.

Of course, where the other social ills go, the state and the feds do their own engineering. The Tax Foundation reports that the federal excise tax on a proof-gallon of liquor is $13.50, or $18 on a 31-gallon barrel of beer.

But if parking lot owners find the city tax burden oppressive, they might consider moving into a more locally acceptable industry, perhaps a brewery. The local tax rate, at least, might be more favorable, and history suggests that the government can’t curb demand no matter how it tries.

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