The Seattle Times editorial board has just declared the entire Seattle City Council, Mayor Ed Murray, his five immediate predecessors, and the more than 70 civic organizations that have endorsed Proposition 1, to be a bunch of dirty stinking liars:
PROPONENTS of Proposition 1 are misleading voters when they claim approval of a Seattle Park District on the Aug. 5 ballot is the only way to save city parks. The measure represents a significant change in governance and a tax increase.
Omigod… pot, meet kettle! As I’ve written before, there’s absolutely no governance change. The mayor still proposes the parks budget, the city council still amends and approves it, and the city Parks Department still administers the funds. There is a tax increase, I’ll give the editors that. But that’s the whole fucking point: more (and more stable) money for parks!
Former Superintendent Ken Bounds recently told KUOW’s The Record, “If this fails, there is no funding.”
Once again the Seattle Times is banking on its readers being even lazier than its editorial writers. But if you actually bother to listen to the entire 14-minute interview, you’ll find that the editors’ seven-word summary of Bounds’ comments were taken entirely out of context:
“This is really about the future of the parks, and what we are going to do to renew our commitment. You’re not voting for a park district or a levy, you’re voting for a park district which has funding for the parks. If this fails, there is no funding. So this is about voting for parks or saying ‘Oh, maybe some day in the future something else will happen.’ That’s not good enough for the citizens, and that’s not good enough for the parks system.”
So reading that quote in context, tell me, who’s really misleading voters here, Ken Bounds or the Seattle Times?
Furthermore, if you want to talk about misleading, in the very same interview Prop 1 opponent Don Harper resorts to his campaign’s usual bullshit scare tactics again, warning that a Park District could spend its money on whatever it wants. “Are we doing this because we want to build a $300 million waterfront park?” Harper asks KUOW listeners. “Are we going to build a new basketball arena?” Before the Seattle Times‘ own editorial board, opponents even warned that a Park District might build an airstrip atop Cal Anderson Park! Yet I don’t see the editors castigating Harper for attempting to mislead voters.
This all-or-nothing approach is troublesome because an alternate funding measure could indeed make the ballot as early as next February.
You know, so the paper would have an opportunity to torpedo the levy in a low-turnout special election, by aggressively endorsing against it the way it opposed the previous two parks levies.
If voters approve Proposition 1, new taxes would not even be collected until 2016. According to the city’s proposed six-year spending plan, the Parks and Recreation Department would get through the next year by borrowing about $10 million.
Um, what is it that the editors don’t get about the word “borrowing.” That $10 million would ultimately be paid back to the city’s general fund. But if Prop 1 fails, there’s no Park District to borrow that money, and there’s no new revenue available to pay it back. So it’s not like that $10 million is available for parks win or lose without cutting $10 million from some other crucial city service.
After that, the Seattle Park District — headed by City Council members — would have the authority to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property owners without voter input, a massive increase from the expiring levy of about 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Council members say they will only collect 33 cents per $1,000 value initially.
Council members don’t just “say”—they passed a goddamn ordinance! Thirty-three cents per $1,000 value per year, through the first six years, a significant but not “massive” increase. That’s what the council passed, and that’s what the mayor signed into law. Or are the editors accusing Mayor Murray and the city council of being a bunch of dirty stinking liars?
Investment is important.
We just don’t want to pay for it.
Leaky community center roofs and dirty pools must get fixed, but not enough of Proposition 1 funds — only about 58 percent — would be spent on repairing a maintenance backlog that has ballooned to nearly $270 million. Instead of taking care of current assets, about a quarter of the new park district’s first-year revenue would be spent on expansion and development.
Really, Seattle Times? Back in 2000, when you opposed that year’s parks levy, you complained that elected officials “should pare it down, take out maintenance dollars, use tax revenues in flush times for some land acquisition.” Could you actually be more transparently hypocritical? But, you know, thanks for illustrating one of the big problems with relying on parks levies to fund our parks: they tend to be geared toward appealing to voters rather than the unsexy day to day business of routine maintenance. That’s how we accumulated this $270 million maintenance backlog in the first place.
(Also, not that the editors care about facts, but their figures aren’t exactly true. Much of that so-called “expansion and development” money is spent developing 14 land-banked sites acquired through previous parks levies, as well as restoring previously cut services at parks and community centers.)
Before attempting to replace a parks levy that voters approve every few years with a vastly different funding mechanism that gives the City Council control over a new fund worth tens of millions, the parks system should first undergo an independent, comprehensive audit. Such a review has never been done before, but it would help prioritize projects and tell voters exactly how their money is being spent.
As I’ve previously explained, that’s just not true—the parks department is subject to routine financial and accountability audits, not to mention the supervision of voters, who easily approved parks levies in 2000 and 2008 (again, over the Seattle Times’ strenuous objections). Further, the accompanying ordinance includes new money for more extensive performance audits—money that won’t exist if Prop 1 doesn’t pass. Plus, the ordinance calls for a citizens advisory committee to help shape spending priorities for the next six-year budget. So there’s arguably more accountability with the park district than there is without.
Voters should remember that once a district is formed and the council takes the reins, it can only be dissolved by its members — a highly unlikely scenario.
Because as its elected members just proved with their remarkably swift action on a historic $15 minimum wage, they are totally unresponsive to popular pressure from voters, or something.
Seattle voters are accustomed to having a robust voice on how their dollars are spent. They should not be bamboozled into thinking Proposition 1 is the sole solution for fixing parks.
Again, the editors are accusing six mayors, nine city council members, and more than 70 civic organizations of being bamboozlers. Think of it as the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” school of editorial writing.
But more to the point, yes Prop 1 is the only reasonable, stable, longterm solution to fixing our parks, because it is our only opportunity to provide an adequate and stable longterm funding source within the context of our I-747-constrained budgets.
One of the myths of the anti-Park District campaign is that we are somehow taking away from voters their historic role in directly managing parks: “Levies have been working well for us for decades,” Harper told KUOW listeners. But that’s not true. Throughout most of Seattle’s history we’ve primarily paid for parks out of our general fund. Indeed, we’ve only recently grown reliant on parks levies thanks to I-747’s absurd 1 percent cap on regular levy growth, which has sapped hundreds of millions of dollars from city coffers over the past decade—as much as $186 million in 2015 alone!
And so the city has finally turned to the Metropolitan Park District’s untapped taxing authority—an authority granted to Seattle a century ago, and one currently used by 16 other Washington municipalities without the atrocities of which opponents fabulously warn—simply to restore some of the regular levy taxing authority eroded away by I-747. In practice, it is little more than an accounting maneuver that allows the council to pass through this unused taxing authority for the benefit of city parks. Nothing more.
Yes, if Prop 1 fails, the city could eventually go back to voters with another parks levy. And like previous parks levies it would likely be loaded with goodies to appeal to the affluent neighborhoods filled with the affluent voters who reliably vote, rather than the unsexy deferred maintenance spending that always seems to be deferred. And like previous parks levies, it would consume precious levy capacity needed for other crucial services like universal preschool, roads, and transit. But what a parks levy can never provide is the adequate and stable funding source necessary to give Seattle the sort of parks, recreation, and community center system it wants and deserves.
Don’t let the Seattle Times mislead you. Vote “Yes” on Prop 1.