Friday, February 19, 2016

Proposed "Transit Tax" Would Hit Employees

My brother Kent rode my bus the other day. It was nice to see him again because he helped teach me a run when I was really green, giving me tips I remember to this day. He also reminded me of Oregon Senate Bill 1521, currently being considered by the state legislature, which would allow TriMet to tax local employees, in addition to their employers who pay transit taxes within the transportation district. This raised my Irish, lemme tell ya. Here are a few reasons why.

The employees of companies within this district already pay enough taxes. Local, payroll and property taxes are pretty high in Oregon, with the only saving grace being we don't have any sales tax. However, those who rely on public transportation to travel to and from work, if not provided with passes by their employer, already pay fares that have basically doubled in the past 20 years. When you factor in wages that have not risen proportionately over that same time frame, someone's getting the shaft here.

Without plunging into great detail over today's rich vs. poor debate, it is still safe to say that a flat income tax on employees qualifies as regressive, meaning it disproportionately affects lower income residents. If a low-wage earner buys a $5 day pass every day to ride the bus to and from work, that's roughly $100 a month. When you factor in car payments, fuel, insurance and maintenance on a vehicle, it's still cheaper to ride a bus than to drive a private vehicle. However, when you start taxing people (0.185 is the bill's proposed rate) in addition to this, they're paying a lot more to spend hours on a crowded, stinky bus with fellow riders of whom many are unclean and lacking in social graces. Those who are just making ends meet but don't ride the bus would be paying this tax too. I'm sorry, but that big of a tax is definitely tougher on the folks with two minimum-wage jobs than it is on our $100,000+ per year TriMet executives, who would most likely be exempt from this tax. (Logic dictates that TriMet employees wouldn't be subject to a tax to fund their own agency, but I wouldn't put it past them.)
One of our "newer" buses, in service just over a year, just hit 100,000 miles!

TriMet maintains the revenue from this proposed tax would be used to expand service to levels necessary to keep up with increasing demand. It also says it would "partner" with local municipalities to build safer transitions from transit to pedestrian/bicycle pathways, help provide lower income/disabled people and students with reduced fares, and purchase more buses. However, according to Chris Lyons of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners fears, this tax would make it harder for local government to raise monies necessary to fix our failing infrastructure.

"Clackamas County and many other local jurisdictions struggle to find dollars to maintain their roads," Lyons wrote in a statement against SB1521. "Our greatest tool to achieving these funding shortfalls is through vehicle registration fees and increased gas taxes. SB 1521 will make it challenging, if not impossible, to garner public support for these critical transportation dollars. Dollars imposed from SB 1521 will not improve roads or add critical infrastructure, but rather will increase the number of large buses driving over these failing transportation facilities that desperately need additional maintenance dollars."

Also, Lyons points out this would not sit well with the voting public. "We believe the employees of these businesses, many of whom do not use public transportation, would reject the fee if posed to them by ballot," Lyons said. "Our fear is that the Legislature will not give employees that option."

With TriMet accused of being a "bully" over the past few years, its support of this blatant money grab puts its operators, who deal with the public on a daily basis, at greater risk of abuse. Would people retaliate against the operators? Our union already faces an uphill battle when new contract negotiations begin in December. TriMet has a history of painting us as greedy, demanding more "Cadillac benefits" while they slice and dice the real deal down to "Yugos and Peanuts". I heard plenty of riders lambasting operators for negotiating better wages, with one having the nerve to refer to me as "rich". At the time, I was at the bottom of the pay scale, which I can assure you our GM hasn't had to endure while employed at TriMet. Even now, at the top of our wage scale, I could scarcely qualify as wealthy by any means of the imagination. Somebody who makes what I do is a working stiff, and would suffer taxation without representation if this tax were implemented.

Why does TM need more money? It keeps hiring overpaid executives while complaining about union workers' pay and benefits, an extremely hypocritical position. It buys more buses operators have determined are dangerous because of vision barriers, telling us to "rock and roll" in the seat more, which increases driver fatigue and repetitive-movement injuries. It also minimizes our safety concerns as attacks on drivers nationally increase every year, while its safety course teaches us the difference between "slips, trips and falls" rather than giving us tools to protect ourselves "out there".

Hey, I love my job. I'm paid well, but I'm worth more. My body takes a beating every week and I work very hard to be even better than TM expects me to be. I'm courteous, smooth driving and law abiding. Each day on the job I'm self-evaluating, learning hints from fellow operators, and making my best effort to provide even more than is expected of me. But if you tax our fellow citizens without giving them a voice in the matter, my brothers and sisters on the road are going to feel the impact while our executives reap the benefits. And by golly, that there's one helluva regressive tax burden.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this informative post. Truly, I was unaware of all this. Keep sharing such stuff!! I am searching for a good Port Macquarie Driving School for my daughter’s driving training as we just settled here last month and not sure about things.