Tax per employee proposed to pay for light rail in Vancouver

Tax per employee proposed to pay for light rail in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Vancouver's City Council heard public arguments Monday night over a controversial proposal to pay for light rail through downtown to Clark College by taxing businesses a set amount every month for each full-time employee.

The so-called "head tax" is one of three talked about plans to raise the $2.5 million in revenue needed every year to run and maintain a new Washington MAX line. Even though voters have never approved light rail, it’s coming to downtown Vancouver when a new Interstate Bridge is built.

The head tax would tax employers $1 to $2 a month per employee, and if Rollie Wolk's company, Capstone Real Estate, was taxed $1 for each of its employees, it would pay $28 a month.

"For me there just comes a point where there's just no more money," he said, saying the company is looking to increase to 40 agents this year.

City Councilor Jack Burkman proposed the head tax as an alternative to a hike in the sales tax, which so far has been favored by a majority of the members on the board of C-Tran to pay for operating downtown light rail.

Burkman says he has empathy for businessmen like Wolk, but "then if I talk to a retailer down the street that goes, 'OK, I'm going to take another tenth of a percent sales tax on everything that I sell and my opponent across the river, my competition, doesn't have to do it.' Neither one are good. But the question is, if you're gonna ask the voters, what tax do you want the ability to say yes or no to, which one do you ask for?"

It could be a combination of both. C-Tran's board has the ultimate decision on what to present to voters, and it could be on the November ballot.

On Tuesday C-Tran has two meetings to debate the funding options. One starts at 4:30 p.m. and the next one is at 6:30 p.m. They will be held at the Rose F. Besserman Community Room, Fisher's Landing Transit Center, 3510 S.E. 164th Avenue.