If you’re gonna drive, you’re gonna pay

Whenever I live in a city — any city, but usually over the past 20 years, Seattle — I don’t own a car. I take buses, cabs, and rely on the kindness of friends and relatives.

There are a couple of reasons for my urban carlessness.

One, all of my downtown Seattle friends complain about the lack of parking as often as my Uncle Bob, a dairy farmer back in Indiana when I was a kid, used to bemoan the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, years after FDR had gone to his reward.

I have a step-sister who a few years ago lived in Boston, where she paid more for her parking space annually than I spent on rent in Port Orchard, down on the Bay Street waterfront.

Two, I don’t like traffic jams, but if I’m in one on a bus, or sitting in your car, I can gawk, read, sleep or talk your ear off.

If I’m driving I have to sit up and take notice when it’s my time to crawl forward a few inches.

Now, when I live in smaller, further-away-from-the-center places like Idaho, Hawaii, and Kitsap County, I always have a car. You could freeze to death waiting for a night bus in Ketchum, Idaho. I always enjoyed a trip or two each week to the mall in Silverdale after my daily toils at the Independent were done, and that couldn’t be done by bus most of the time. And on the island of Kauai, the only bus anyone ever tried counting on was the one from the airport into Lihue. Going the other way, well...in smaller, more out-of-the-way places, the car is king.

All of this personal vehicle history is a prelude to a few unsolicited comments about the doings down in Olympia, where the Legislature passed a state gas tax increase eight days ago.

At first glance the tax, 3 cents a gallon the first year, 3 cents again the second year, and then 3.5 cents per gallon phased in over the next two years, doesn’t sound like much.

And it isn’t if you’re one of those folks who just drives to church, the mall and down to the corner tavern for a drink or two.

But commuters will be punished severely for their impudent belief that they should drive to work every day no matter how far away from the factory or the office they are.

A guy, or a gal, who drives 40 miles a day, five days a week, and only gets 10 to 15 miles per gallon from their oversized SUV, is looking at $50 in added gas bills the first year, and then another $100 or so “phased” in during the following three years, according to my handy-dandy pocket calculator.

But the personal pull at our pockets isn’t the only issue.

More and more personal and alleged spiritual philosophies are what’s behind political actions locally and nationally.

There are American druggists who are now refusing to fill some folks’ prescriptions for contraceptive drugs, citing their personal beliefs as the reason for not doing their jobs.

The gas tax was a battleground over the idea that we are all in this experiment of living in a democracy together. But it was a battlefield chosen by the polticians in Olympia. There were other places to look for more tax monies. But transportation was the place where the lines were drawn.

Much of the funding brought in by the new gas tax will be used to pay toward improvements in our state’s aging transportation infrastructure.

Locally, the tax increase is currently slated to supply $162 million toward the $285 million needed to replace the Hood Canal Bridge.

Statewide, the gas tax increase is purportedly going to contribute $2 billion of the $4 billion needed to replace the allegedly crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct that looms above the Seattle waterfront.

Democrats were behind this tax and celebrated its passage as if the Iraq War had finally ended.

Eleven Republican legislators, primarily from west of the Cascades, joined the Democrats in passing the gas-tax-hike.

But it’s not over.

Because of budget shortfalls, local entities are expected to come up with some of the funding for transportation projects not covered by the gas tax hike.

The Legislature’s transportation plan notes that if local entities don’t raise their share of transportation monies needed for projects by January 2007, there is a risk the funds will be lost.

Lost to where?

And if, say, Kitsap County joins its neighbors in raising the $123 million not covered for the Hood Canal replacement by the gas-tax-boost, how will those funds be raised?

More taxes?

Personally, I feel that if we are all in this together we should paint the Hood Canal Bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and leave the already-skyrocketing gas prices alone.

I would suggest instead that we more heavily tax the beer and wine I drink, and the cigarettes you smoke, and put that money into making certain every citizen of Washington State who doesn’t have health insurance can get some medical care.

In a society where the ranks of the poor are growing, while the responsibilities accepted by the super-rich are shrinking, the burden of keeping this ship of state afloat is falling more and more onto the shoulders of the middle and lower-middle class.

Gas taxes.

Property taxes.

Sales taxes (coming your way in increasing ways, you can bet).

Once again it seems to me that both major political parties, ensnared in name-calling and philosophical and alleged religious arguments about vegetative states and birth control pills, are letting down the regular citizens on both sides of the political aisle.

In pursuit of fairness, let me add, I scribbled down the first draft of this column on a bus heading to a Mariners’ game. I wasn’t driving.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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