Here's a twist: Tacoma voters may hike tax on utilities

TACOMA, Wash. -- Tacoma residents may soon have the chance to vote on whether to tax utility companies to pay for road and sidewalk repair.

It's usually voters who are asked to pay more taxes, but this time the Tacoma City Council is considering asking voters to approve a tax on the profits of the big utility companies.

Road repairs are expensive, and in tight budget years the repairs often get left undone. But this time the Tacoma City Council is considering an option that doesn't put the burden on taxpayers and instead takes a two-percent cut of the gross profit made by utility companies, such as electricity, gas and phones.

The Tacoma Public Works department estimates the tax hike would net the city $10 - 11 million every year, which would be earmarked for road and sidewalk improvements, as well as crosswalk safety projects.

"Well, yes. But the tax on the utilities is going to be transferred to the customers," said Tacoma resident Sara Smith-Anderson.

Smith-Anderson likes the idea of more road improvements, but feels the burden will someone fall back to the customers.

"And these customers don't always have the ability to pay the full utility bill they have right now," she said.

Proponents of the tax hike hope that's not the case, but officials from the utility companies seem to back up Smith-Anderson's fears.

"We would have to pass it on," said Chris Gleason with Tacoma Power. "It's really a tax that's imposed on us, which we just pass on to our customers."

Puget Sound Energy officials said the same thing, but many residents, such as Chrysanthe Barnes, say they still plan on voting for the tax increase.

"Isn't there a saying that we always pay for everything? But that would be a great idea," Barnes said.

Tacoma Public Works estimates that if the utilities pass the tax onto consumers, it could add about $5 a month to each customer's bill.

The city council could take a vote on the proposal next Tuesday. If approved, it will go to a vote of the people in November.