Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen has proposed taxing business parking spaces in the county, reports the Gazette. The proposal would charge $250 per space per year, but give discounts to businesses if they make employees pay market rate for their parking, provide mass transit benefits, or subsidize parking for carpools.
Floreen plans to dedicate the tax revenue to transit, creating a reliable funding stream. It’s still possible the county could reduce transit contributions in other areas, so the money wouldn’t necessarily increase transit funding. The Council should commit to making these funds improve transit, such as by dedicating this revenue to new projects or service expansions which aren’t funded today.
Besides the predicable reaction from business groups, there are some fair criticisms of the plan. Montgomery County requires businesses to build a lot of parking, even in dense downtown areas like Bethesda. To turn around and tax them for parking they may not have wanted to build is unfair.
At the very least, the County should relax or remove parking minimums so that future developments don’t have to both build unnecessary parking and then pay to offset its environmental impact. Wayne Goldstein, of the Montgomery County Civic Federation (the same person quoted last week opposing accessory dwellings), recommends the same reform in the article.
The proposal also exempts local governments. Montgomery County and local jurisdictions ought to have the same incentives to encourage transit use as any other business. Plus, when legislators or agency administrators get free parking, they ride transit at much lower rates and see the world differently from their constituents who don’t receive the same perks.
A dedicated revenue source for transit is a great idea. And coupling it with programs that encourage switching away from cars—a combination of carrot and stick—is a reasonable way to do so. It’s just important to ensure the county isn’t shoving businesses toward parking with one hand while wielding the stick with the other.