Washington communities weigh dock tax to recover road cost

| 2/5/2009

Several towns located in the valley between Tacoma and Seattle are looking at ways to stabilize road maintenance – and they’re banking on truck traffic generated by nearby ports as a way to get back into black.

Fife, WA, located near Tacoma, is considering adding a $100 tax per door for warehouse owners that house freight hauled by commercial trucks.

Fife City Manager Steve Worthington, who is overseeing the proposed tax, was unavailable for comment Thursday, Feb. 5, though another city official said the measure will see at least one more public hearing and two readings by the council.

Fife is one of several towns in the area that are home to warehouses from the two larger cities’ ports. Neighboring Sumner and Auburn are considering a similar tax to pay for road maintenance.

The measures are unlikely to be adopted without a fight.

The Fife City Council has received a large amount of feedback, including from many concerned warehouse owners and some large trucking representatives, Russell Blount, public works director, told Land Line.

“We have a number of auto dealers, and historically a lot of our revenue funds come from sales tax association with new car sales,” Blount said. “Sales, frankly, are way down.”

The News Tribune reported that Fife has about 2,022 loading dock doors, which would be taxed and could bring in more than $200,000 in annual revenue.

OOIDA officials flatly rejected the tax’s validity and ability to fairly tax road users.

“This is really stupid,” said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist. “Look – if you’ve got a budget shortfall, increase your mill rate on property tax. It’s pretty simple. That’s an easier way to raise money than assuming falsely that truck owners aren’t paying their fair share. And this gets into the issue of highway funding. Fife almost certainly is a recipient of state and federal tax dollars.”

The dock fee will surely be turned and charged to shippers, and therefore the truckers that make dock pickups and deliveries, said Rajkovacz, who said he wants to see the legal language for the proposed ordinance.

“Any scheme concocted by local government that is used by the business community to essentially coerce truckers to pay to be unloaded is illegal under federal law,” Rajkovacz said. “Truckers cannot be forced to pay to be unloaded or loaded.”

Truckers already pull their weight in infrastructure maintenance.

Tom Weakley, director of the OOIDA Foundation, pointed to an American Trucking Associations statistic that shows commercial trucks make up 12.5 percent of all registered vehicles but pay 36.5 percent of total highway-user taxes.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer