“Good Governance” Went Out the Window With I-747

Seattle Times editorial columnist Thanh Tan raises the issue of “good governance” in regards to Proposition 1:

The Seattle Times opposes Prop 1, and published an editorial Wednesday arguing it is not the only option to save parks. The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County urge a ‘no’ vote because its members take issue with Prop. 1′s proposed governance model, which replaces the current parks levy with a new taxing district overseen by the Seattle City Council.

The Municipal League of King County recently came out with a ‘yes’ recommendation, though it noted that “as a matter of good governance, parks operations should be funded through the City’s General Fund. The Municipal League believes a YES vote is the best practical measure available for addressing parks funding shortfalls, but is concerned that approving this measure will result in a continued practice of reducing allocations for essential city services from the General Fund.”

And I agree 100 percent! As a matter of good governance, parks operations should be funded through municipal general funds. As should libraries. And basic road maintenance. And affordable housing. And universal preschool. And veteran and human services. And the new juvenile detention center. And so forth.

The problem is, thanks to I-747′s arbitrary and absurd 1 percent annual cap on revenue growth from existing construction, our general fund revenues simply can’t grow commensurate with our needs. As a 2012 report from the Seattle Parks Foundation clearly explains:

Initiative 747 reduced the allowable annual increase in the property tax from 6 percent to 1 percent per year, well below the rate of inflation. Another ballot measure, Initiative 776, restricts counties from collecting vehicle license fees. It should be noted that the voters of Seattle voted against both measures by substantial margins, but they passed statewide and therefore apply in Seattle. As a result of Initiative 747 alone, the City of Seattle’s property tax collections in 2010 are at least $60 million less than if the measure had not passed. The impact of the loss is compounded each year the limits remain in place, so annual losses increase by approximately $15 million per year, meaning that the estimated loss for 2011 will be at least $75 million. This estimate assumes the City Council would have limited the tax increase to the rate of inflation in the City’s labor costs (3.5 percent to 4.5 percent annually, which includes the cost of health care). If one assumes the City Council would have increased property tax to the statutory limit of 6 percent per year, the 2011 loss would be $126 million.

That’s not pro-Park District propaganda. That’s math. And that’s the reason why the city has been forced to increasingly rely on levy “lid lifts” to fund basic services like libraries and parks—not as a matter of good governance but as a matter of last resort.

So the “good governance” argument is bullshit, not because it’s wrong, but because we simply no longer have that option. Tim Eyman (and the feckless cowards in Olympia who reinstated I-747 after the courts tossed it out) have deliberately taken that option away.

The fact is, like the state (if to a lesser extent), Seattle has a structural revenue deficit. The cost of maintaining government services at a constant level largely tracks economic growth, yet our tax system does not. Regular property tax levy growth is bizarrely capped at 1 percent. Year after year, sales tax revenue shrinks as a portion of the overall economy as the sale of goods becomes an ever smaller piece of the economic pie. Yet there are statutory limits on the extent to which we can use special levies to make up the shortfall. A municipal park district would get around that, by allowing the council to pass through to the parks department otherwise untapped taxing authority.

So again, arguing that good governance would dictate that parks be funded through the general fund is like arguing that good environmental stewardship would dictate that we save the carrier pigeon from extinction. Absolutely true. But too damn late.

We need a Metropolitan Park District because that is the taxing authority we have. Vote “Yes” on Prop 1.

“Nobody’s Happy” Is No Justification for Political Compromise

All that other stuff aside, I just have to take a moment to express how much I hate the use of the Nobody’s Happy Scale in defense of political compromise:

[Courtney] Gregoire said the Port understands there is a court case pending, but hopes the court recognizes the Port of Seattle is unique and has a unique authority of the airport and stands by the Ports decision saying she thinks it is a good solution.

“You know you are probably in a good place when some people are saying you didn’t go far enough, and others that say we went too far,” she said.

Because… why? Why exactly is that ever a good place?

Look, I’m enough of a pragmatist to understand that compromise is often necessary, because in politics, compromise is often the only way to get shit done. And maybe that applies here. But this is a metric that confuses the means for the end, inherently elevating compromise as the primary measure of political success. And that’s just fundamentally stupid. Literally slicing the baby in half is an equitable compromise that makes nobody happy, whereas awarding the whole baby to one contesting mother or the other is sure to leave one party totally aggrieved. You tell me, which is the better place?

Furthermore, Gregoire’s use of the Nobody’s Happy Scale is typical in that it is cited without reference to context or proportion. But to say that some people think you “went too far” while others think you “didn’t go far enough”—without ever acknowledging the relative number of people on either side (let alone the credibility of their arguments)—echoes the logic of climate change deniers who routinely cite a handful of scientists in refutation of tens of thousands!

And this isn’t just a semantic nit I’m picking. Rather, it is central to the way the language of political discourse serves to disempower the majority. For in truth, the Sea-Tac minimum wage debate pits just a handful of profitable businesses against thousands of low-wage airport workers—a dozen or so “too fars” versus about 6,000 “not far enoughs.” So, intentional or not, how is Gregoire’s math much different from this?

“If you have the 1 percent saying, ‘Tax the 99 percent,’ and the 99 percent saying, ‘Tax the 1 percent,’ you have a standstill.”
— former WA State Senator Joseph Zarelli (R-Ridgefield), 12/2/2011

Of course, what Gregoire is really attempting to accomplish with this offhand appeal to the Nobody’s Happy Scale, is to establish a claim of neutrality. If nobody’s happy, she is arguing, then you can’t accuse the commissioners of take sides. But unfortunately, that’s not supported by the facts on the ground.

For if the commissioners were truly neutral, after years of denying they even had the legal authority to impose a minimum wage at the airport, then they would have stayed the hell out of Alaska Airlines’ lawsuit instead of joining it! In fact, given Gregoire’s statement that she hopes the court “recognizes… and stands by the Port’s decision,” it is not unreasonable to view the commissioner’s belated actions with a fair degree of cynicism.

Which is a shame. Because while I question the commissioners’ judgment as well as the language they inartfully chose to defend it, I don’t question their motives. Buried in the supporting documents is the compelling data-driven argument that low wages lead to high turnover which leads to greater security risks at the airport. I wish Gregoire had taken the opportunity to drive that point home as a justification for raising airport wages. And if the other side of the commission’s compromise was equally data-driven, I wish they would have clearly presented those arguments too.

Instead, what we got was the Nobody’s Happy Scale, a compromise for the sake of compromise platitude that can’t help but perpetuate the same profound imbalance of power between labor (the many) and capital (the few) that the SeaTac $15 minimum wage initiative was necessary to address.

Open Thread July Twenty-Four

- Yay for private charity, boo for thinking it can replace public safety net programs.

- Now, we can have a discussion about noblesse oblige, but the fundamental thing here is that McCain really doesn’t have a problem with the noblesse, it’s just that he thinks there should be no oblige.

- Can we acknowledge that we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with the death penalty at this point?

- As she points out, regretfully, there’s a big gap between male and female artists. The stats are grim: Although 60 percent of arts graduates are women, galleries display only about 25 percent of women’s work nationally. Seattle’s record at 39 percent is somewhat better. Less than 4 percent of museum collections are credited to women artists.

- Conservatives trying to evaluate the goals of the ACA are like elephants trying to play a toy piano.

- I’m not really excited about this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party because I’m fully 1000 years old, but if you go, here’s hoping you have a good time.

Hey, Thanks, Alaska Airlines, for the Unintended Consequences from Your Stupid Anti-Labor Intransigence!

Earlier this week the Port of Seattle Commission officially approved the airport minimum wage proposal I first wrote about here:

Minimum total compensation would start at 13.72 an hour in 2015, with a minimum cash wage of $11.22, and rise to $15.50 an hour in 2017, with a minimum cash wage of $13. In addition, airport workers would be guaranteed a minimum of 1 hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.

It only covers about 3,500 workers with access to restricted areas, and it’s certainly not as good as the $15 minimum wage approved last November by City of SeaTac voters (and still wending its way through the courts). But my guess is that had Alaska Airlines and its contractors agreed to something like this a year ago, there never would have been a $15 minimum wage initiative in SeaTac, and thus there likely wouldn’t have been a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. So thank you, Alaska Airlines, for the unintended consequences of your anti-labor intransigence!

Whatever. The Washington State Supreme Court has heard oral arguments, and should decide by the end of the year whether Sea-Tac Airport is exempt from the City of SeaTac’s voter approved $15 minimum wage ordinance. If the court rules in favor of the City of SeaTac, then all Sea-Tac Airport workers will immediate start earning a minimum of $15 an hour, and probably receive backpay to January 1. If the court rules in favor of Alaska and the other plaintiffs, well then I suppose the Port Commission’s new minimum wage (after years of claiming it lacked the legal authority to set a minimum wage) is better than a kick in the teeth, and a political victory in itself.

Pot, Meet Kettle: Seattle Times Hilariously Accuses Park District Supporters of “Misleading Voters”

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.

Open Thread 7/22

- This carmageddon will be different.

- Most law-enforcement bodies have discretion over what they test, and many shelve kits if a victim seems untrustworthy or a suspect has already been identified, according to the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the Department of Justice. Police also give priority to cases in which the suspect is a stranger and the victim is visibly injured. Yet perhaps eight in ten rapes take place between people who at least vaguely know each other, and most lack signs of violence. Acquaintance rapists are often chronic offenders, says David Lisak, a clinical psychologist. [h/t]

- Well done Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction and Mayor Murray.

- After you’ve lost everyone who’s disgusted with the child abuse and hate, this is what’s left, and they’re running the place.

- Spokane people, any of you going to miss the Parkade Plaza Fountain?

- I don’t think the GOP have really thought through the Halbig case.

- Jonah Goldberg is a horrible person, but he’s a horrible person in a specific way that has allowed a lot of people to make fun of him over the years.

Anti-$15 Minimum Wage Referendum Officially Fails to Qualify for the Ballot, 100 Signatures Withdrawn

King County Elections released its absolute final signature verification results today, and of the 18,929 signatures Forward Seattle submitted, only 14,818 were determined to be valid, far short of the 16,510 necessary to qualify for the ballot. KCE validated an additional 455 signatures (out of 568 submitted) from a separate $15 referendum, but since the combined total still falls well short of the threshold, there’s no need to go through the legal wrangling necessary to determine whether they can be combined.

Of course, this result had been a foregone conclusion for more than a week. Of more interest is that KCE subtracted 100 signatures from the final total as legally “withdrawn.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this before. Kudos to Working Washington for setting new precedent in the battle against blatantly dishonest signature drives.

Stagnant US Wages Eat into McDonald’s Profits

The glaring irony in the minimum wage debate is that it’s not inflation or rising labor costs that threaten corporate profits, but rather, stagnant consumer demand:

McDonald’s Corp. said its profit slipped in the second quarter as sales in the U.S. continued to flag.

The world’s biggest hamburger chain has been struggling to boost sales in its flagship market amid intensifying competition, changing eating habits and the persistent financial struggles of its lower-income customers.

In the U.S., sales at established locations fell 1.5 percent for the period fewer customers came into its restaurants. The company, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, hasn’t managed to raise the figure since October.

Real median wages declined 11 percent between 2002 and 2012, leaving low and middle income consumers with little discretionary income. Not even enough to spend on luxuries like McDonald’s.

It is lagging consumer demand that is holding back the US economy, and lagging demand is a direct result of lagging wages. Perhaps that’s why the 13 states that raised their minimum wage on January 1, are the 13 states with the fastest job growth since?

Though to Be Fair, Who Hasn’t Wanted to Shove Dave Meinert?

There’s actual video of hipster oligarch Dave Meinert getting shoved by a silver-haired Parks District opponent at a pro-Parks District press conference:

“I’ve never been at a press conference like that ever,” said Wells. “That was angrier than any of the minimum-wage stuff,” Meinert concurs.

They’re not always obedient, but I don’t think $15 Now and Socialist Alternative get enough credit for how civil they’ve always been. Never a hint of violence or unrest. Extremely well disciplined. Very peaceful.

Yet some of these anti-Parks Districts folk… what a bunch of assholes.

Gun-Nut Leader Accuses Background Check Supporters of Being Nuttier than Gun-Nuts

You know those targets left outside the League of Women Voters offices? It’s all an elaborate ruse, claims professional gun-nut Alan Gottlieb!

“Experienced gun owners have questioned whether or not this was actually the work of anyone even slightly familiar with firearms,” Gottlieb said, intimating the incident may have been a publicity stunt. “Rather, it seems more likely to be a stunt perpetrated by proponents of 594 seeking attention. It’s the kind of juvenile prank that only anti-gun elitists would find credible.

Right. It’s exactly the kinda juvenile stunt we’ve come to expect from the League of Women Voters! That, and delicious home-baked strudel.

Gottlieb, a convicted felon, has made a fortune from his Bellevue-based gun “advocacy” groups. So it’ll be kinda sweet to see I-594 passed in his own backyard.

It’s Time’s Like This I Wish I Was a God-Fearing Christian…

… Because then I could rest comfortably knowing that these assholes would eventually burn in Hell:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government could not subsidize premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange, a ruling that could upend President Obama’s health care law.

The 2-to-1 ruling could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace.

… The lawsuit was filed by several people, supported by conservative and libertarian organizations, in states that use the federal exchange: Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. They objected to being required to buy insurance, even with subsidies to help defray the cost.

I’m sure the plaintiffs are patting themselves on the back right now in celebration of their big victory over Obamunism. But seriously, if this decision is upheld (and my sense is that it won’t be), how many of those 4.5 million Americans will suffer and/or die because their affordable health insurance was yanked away? If there really is a just and vengeful God, he’ll see this lawsuit for what it really is: attempted murder.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottle Unless you happen to be meeting with President Obama, please join us tonight for an evening of politics over a pint at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally. The ballots are out, so bring along your questions about and opinions of the candidates.

We meet tonight, and every Tuesday evening at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. The starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks show up before that for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out another Washington state DL over the next week. They’re everywhere! The Tri-Cities chapter also meets this and every Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the Bellingham and Burien chapters meet. And on Thursday, the Woodinville chapter meets.

With 203 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

Our Tax Dollars at Work (in Okanogan County)

Goddamn freedom-trampling money-wasting big guvmint!

As of this morning, some 3,100 firefighters were battling six major wildfires in Washington, while more than 4,800 were fighting 13 fires in Oregon.

More than 1,600 were at the Carlton Complex fire, up about 200 from Sunday.

A couple years ago when I ran the numbers for The Stranger, Okanogan County got back $1.84 in state spending for every tax dollar it sent to Olympia, while King County got back only 62 cents on the dollar. Which is fine. They sure do need our help to fight what is now the largest wildfire in state history. I just wish they had a more realistic understanding of who carries who, instead of constantly blaming Seattle liberals for all their woes.

Two New Reports Upend Supply-Side Dogma

Up is down! Black is white! Keynes is Friedman! It’s like we’re living in economic Bizzaro World!

First, there’s this:

Maybe a higher minimum wage isn’t so bad for job growth after all.

The 13 U.S. states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not, providing some counter-intuitive fuel to the debate over what impact a higher minimum has on hiring trends.

And now, there’s this:

The big takeaway: There is a clear connection between economic inequality and low-tax, low-cost state business climates (or, more accurately, business climate indexes based on those factors). As they put it: “The same tax and cost related indexes that are associated with higher economic growth are also associated with increases in inequality.”

Omigod, it’s like everything the supply-siders have been telling us for the past 40 years is wrong! A higher minimum wage does not decrease economic growth, and a rising tide does not raise all boats!

Who’da thunk?