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Wheel Tax to go to Court

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Shelley Russell

OMAHA (KPTM)-It's a controversial plan to tax commuters who work in Omaha.

And Wednesday, the Wheel Tax Coalition announced they will challenge it in court.

This announcement comes just days before the tax goes into effect on January 1, 2011.

"It's not like you're staying at a hotel; it's not like you're eating at a restaurant; it's not like you're buying something," said the Coalition's attorney, Bill McGinn. "You're just being there. And you're being taxed because you don't live there."

Bellevue City Council President and leader of the Coalition Carol Blood said, "We believe that this tax is bad for business. We believe it's discriminatory."

But Deputy City Attorney Tom Mumgaard disagrees.

"Every business needs to have employees that come across the streets. If you don't have good streets, we saw last year that if you have potholes in your streets that are tearing up people's cars, they're not going to be happy about coming to work in Omaha," said Mumgaard.

He added that the wheel fee for commuters is not taxation without representation, an idea many commuters have been revved up about.

"First off, taxation without representation is not a legal principal. It is found nowhere in the law; it is not a limitation, and it's something that happens constantly. Every time I go to Bellevue and buy a product in Bellevue, I pay a Bellevue sales tax that is decided upon by people I don't vote for," said Mumgaard.

He said people who use the roads need to pay up to maintain them.

City employees who live outside the county and commute to work in Omaha have been paying the wheel tax for years. Mumgaard tells us the idea is essentially the same as a toll road without stations to stop at.

Money collected from the wheel tax will go directly toward constructing and maintaining City streets.

But some commuters think it's just unfair.

"I think the key is [for the City] to work on balancing their budget instead of penalizing those like myself who work in Omaha and live in Council Bluffs," said Melissa Head. "We currently contribute to the Omaha budget by eating out lunch, going shopping while we're in the Omaha area, so I feel that to be penalized for working over there is not necessarily the right way for them to go about this," she added.

Mumgaard said, "Paying sales tax, eating here, shopping here…those are also being done by people who live here in town and are currently paying for this wheel fee."

He added that people who don't live in the City, but cause the problem and "wear-and-tear" of the roads, aren't helping pay for it.

The Wheel Tax Coalition will take the case to court within the next ten days.

"I don't know what the outcome will be when we go to court, but at least we stepped up to the plate, and we tried," said Blood.

"Litigation is always uncertain, but we've looked at it, and the authority to impose this kind of a fee on people who use the streets is very clear; it's existed for years," said Mumgaard.

The Wheel Tax Coalition launched a web site Wednesday in an effort to inform citizens how the tax will effect them.

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