No P.U. Taxes! The Feds Refuse to Pony Up for City Drain Maintenance

When you buy property in Seattle, you have to start paying stormwater fees. The money goes toward maintaining the drains and pipes that channel rainwater away from your property and ultimately into Puget Sound.Last week, the Vancouver Columbian reported that the Bonneville Power Association, a Portland-based federal agency that runs federally owned dams and other Northwest power sources, is refusing to pay those fees. The BPA sent a letter to cities where it has land, including Vancouver, claiming the fees are essentially a tax, and since federal agencies are exempt from state and local taxes, they would no longer be paying it.The BPA doesn't own property in Seattle, but plenty of other federal agencies do, and most refuse to pay the fees, says Seattle City Attorney spokesperson Kimberly Mills. She says that's deprived Seattle Public Utilities, which maintains the city drains, of about $1.6 million over approximately four years.It was a fight between King County and the U.S. Forest Service that led to this mass federal tax avoidance. Four years ago, the Forest Service sought a legal opinion from the federal Government Accountability Office on whether or not King County could legally continue to charge the agency $1,000 a year in stormwater fees. In June 2006, the GAO decided that the county's fee falls under the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of a tax: "an enforced contribution to provide for the support of government." So the Forest Service has left its county bill unpaid. In the years since, other federal agencies have started refusing to pay similar city and county fees nationwide.While Mills says the City Attorney's office is looking at legal options for challenging the GAO's decision, we say: Why not just refuse to clear out the drains around the federal courthouse? If the toilets start backing up, the feds might decide the fee is pretty reasonable after all.

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