I’ve been too preoccupied to conduct my usual fisking of Seattle Times editorials in recent days, but that hasn’t made them any less worthy of mockery.
Temporarily increase the King County sales tax to maintain police, jails and courts? “Enough is enough,” the Times proclaims. “This page does not have a detailed, prescriptive answer to King County’s whole problem,” Frank Blethen’s crack editorialists admit, but that doesn’t stop them from insisting that criminal justice services — which account for over 70 percent of the county’s general fund — must be maintained at current levels, in the face of dramatically declining revenues, but with no tax increases. I guess that’s what passes for bold leadership down at Fairview Fanny.
And the Times consistently pushes its no-tax/yes-spend prescription on a number of other issues. We hear little argument from the Times that the state isn’t underfunding basic education, yet they maintain their virulent opposition to the sort of revenue hikes or tax restructuring necessary to pay for it. And just today their editorial page lauds First Lady Michelle Obama for her soft approach to childhood obesity that doesn’t include government mandates or taxes.
What is most appealing about the first lady’s approach is it is neither heavy-handed nor naive. The federal government will not become the food police but will instead encourage sensible initiatives such as added sidewalks to spur walking and exercise.
And how will we pay for these sidewalks and public service campaigns and whatnot? Certainly not by taxing sweetened beverages, the number one source of calories in the average American diet. The Times acknowledges that “obesity contributes to the nation’s soaring health-care bill,” but a targeted tax aimed at reducing consumption of empty calories while providing a revenue source to help pay for obesity’s growing consequences, well, that would be “heavy-handed.” And worst of all, it would be, you know, a tax.
So how would the Times editors balance their own conflicting demands for more government services and lower taxes? Well, despite their refusal to put forth “prescriptive answers,” I suppose we might tease a few hints as to how they might run state government, by examining how they have run their own business, and imagining how very different Washington state might look today had Frank Blethen been governor over much of the past decade, with his editorial board holding the reins of the legislative leadership.
Buoyed upon the economic euphoria of the previous bubble, the first thing Gov. Blethen would have done upon taking office in early 2001, would be to purchase the state of Maine, and at a highly inflated price, only to sell it at a total loss a decade later after pumping millions of dollars into subsidizing his acquisition’s own growing deficits. Then, with hundreds of millions of dollars of highly leveraged debt coming due at the same time revenues started their precipitous tumble, Gov. Blethen would fight vociferously to drive neighboring Oregon out of business in the hope of attracting a substantial portion of its loyal taxpayers.
But none of this would be enough to balance the books. Wages would have to be cut, benefits slashed, jobs eliminated and unions busted… because it was organized labor, after all, who was really responsible for that whole Maine fiasco. And, just like the Times has managed to maintain the breadth, depth and quality of their news coverage while closing bureaus and dramatically shrinking their newsroom, so too our state government, under Gov. Blethen’s deft leadership, would be able to maintain, or even increase critical public services and infrastructure, while substantially decreasing both salaries and staff. I mean, just imagine how much better DMV would function if they had fewer offices and less staff servicing the same number of customers… and at lower wages to boot. All we need to do is make government operate more like a business!
As for schools, despite the worsening revenue crisis, we could trust Gov. Blethen to finally cut class sizes… by, you know, physically cutting classroom sizes, the same way the Times has cut the width of its newsprint by 15% in recent years. Just crowd those desks a little closer; the kids will never know the difference.
You get the point. Frank Blethen has done such a remarkable job guiding his proud family newspaper from perpetual prosperity to the verge of bankruptcy, that if there is anybody who we should turn to for advice on how to fix what ails state and local government, it is he and his fellow economic wunderkind on the Times editorial board.
I’m just sayin’.
Carl points out that he kinda had this idea first.